Archive for family

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned holiday with family

I’ve talked before about how we all fall back into our childhood roles when we visit family, and this Christmas was no exception for me.

As usual, Dave and I were lucky enough to be able to travel to Florida to see my parents.

Florida . . . the sun, the beach, the 70-degree days, and . . . my father, the one person who is single-handedly able to erase all the progress I’ve made with my self-esteem.

Truth be told, Dad was mostly on his best behavior this year. I think he’s starting to worry about getting old, so he’s being nicer to everyone. After all, they don’t let grouchy people into heaven.

And I did my best to stay out of his judgmental eye—not letting him see me at my early morning pajama-clad worst if I could avoid it. (Yes, I know it’s sad that I dress for my father, but we’re all messed up, right? My messed-up-ness stems from Daddy issues, and, come on, whose doesn’t?)

I even went so far as to make sure I ate most of my meals when he wasn’t looking because I know that his favorite thing to do is to commentate other people’s food choices. . .

“Is that raw?” (This comment is usually said with a shudder.)

“I don’t like to eat at that place. They give you way too much food.” (Translation: I don’t eat as much as you do.)

“I like a dry tuna.” (Meaning, “I’m too good for mayonnaise.”)

“Geez, that’s a whale of a burrito!” (No explanation necessary.)

“I don’t eat much red meat myself. You almost have to force me to eat red meat.” (This from the man who had steak and hamburger last night for dinner.)

“Are you really going to eat that?” (Gee, thanks Dad.)

These comments are the reason why I decided to fill my plate before my parents came over for dinner one night last week. We had bought roast beef and ham for a friend’s visit, but so much of it had gone uneaten that we’d invited my parents over for dinner the same night to help us finish it.

But as I was putting out a buffet of pasta salad, deli meat, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, it occurred to me that if my dad had the chance, he’d make a comment about every single morsel I put on my plate. So I decided to be pro-active and put my meal together before he arrived.

Unfortunately, Dad showed up just as I put two slices of bread on my plate.

Unlike a normal person, Dad did not pick up his own plate and start selecting the items for his own dinner. No, that would be too obvious. Instead, he followed me through the buffet, making a comment about each of my selections. It was when I was at the end of the line, spreading the tiniest layer of mayo on my sandwich—I knew he was watching—that he went in for the kill.

“That sure is a lot of mayonnaise,” he said with a small chuckle.

I honestly couldn’t believe it. I had purposefully used the smallest amount possible, but from his point of view, it was still too much.

“Well, you know me,” I said. “I love me some hip-widening fat-filled mayonnaise. Always have, always will. Want some?” I added, holding the greasy knife up to his throat like a weapon.

Okay, so this was not actually my response, but I can dream, can’t I?

Thou shall not steal thy neighbors’ bread on Thanksgiving

There are a lot of things I could write about today as we all prepare for the biggest eating event of the year in this country.

I could advise you to avoid emotional eating, to work a little aerobic activity into your holiday, to pace yourself through the big buffet, heck, I could even tell you to not worry about it and eat whatever you want (which is what I actually think you should do), but let me tell you a story which will provide you with the one piece of advice about eating with family that might be the best you’ll ever get . . .

Every year we are lucky enough to be invited to Dave’s brother’s house for Thanksgiving. Jack and his wife Carol have all of their siblings over for a traditional turkey dinner, and since most of them have children, the group has expanded to about fifty people. We’ve been going to Jack and Carol’s for more years than I can count at this point, and it’s always a good time.

But one year, I made a fatal error.

Just like most people, we all bring a dish for dinner, and one time I decided to make homemade rolls.

These weren’t just any rolls.

They were Martha Stewart Parkerhouse Rolls, and the basic process for making them meant that I would roll out a piece of dough, coat it with butter, fold it, apply another layer of butter, and then repeat. Six times.

They are honestly the best rolls I’ve ever had. I had made them for my family before, but had never made them for Dave’s, and was therefore nervous about everthing going right.

Of course, I had nothing to worry about. The rolls were exquisite. It’s hard to go wrong when the main ingredients are butter, sugar, and flour.

My only disappointment was that the rolls weren’t the hit I had been hoping for. On a buffet filled with fried turkey injected with cajun seasoning, strawberry spinach salad with candied pecans, and Paula Deen cornbread-and-sausge stuffing, my rolls were easy to overlook. Most people took one, but some of them were ignored, like a sad puppy left outside in the rain.

As it turned out, I was sitting next to one of those sad and lonely rolls … on our nephew’s plate. Jake was probably only ten or eleven at the time, and he couldn’t have known how long I’d slaved over those rolls or how much they meant to me.

So he took one bite out of his Martha Stewart parkerhouse roll and put it off to the side of his plate, where he promptly forgot about it.

I watched his roll like a jealous lover, waiting to see if he would finish it or return to it at all. But it was completely neglected. And when Jake put his hand on his stomach and said, “I feel kind of full,” I jumped at my chance.

“Are you going to finish your roll?” I asked.

“You can have it,” he said, knowing immediately what I was after. He had, after all, been living with a father who had been asking the same question for over a decade.

I can honestly say that that one roll was the best one I had all night, possibly ever. It dripped with the sweet taste of longing and oozed with the satisfaction of fulfilled desire.

It was good that I enjoyed that roll so much because a day and a half later, I was bent over the toilet in our tiny apartment bathroom, emptying my stomach of everything—Parkerhouse rolls, fried turkey, spinach salad, sausage stuffing, everything—I had eaten for days. As it turned out, Jake had been grabbing his stomach because he was in the early stages of a nasty stomach flu, and when I picked up the half-eaten roll off his plate, I picked up his virus too.

I still look at the uneaten food on my nieces’ and nephews’ plates with longing. I can’t help it when they repeatedly leave so much amazing food behind. But never again will I actual give into that temptation and reach across the table to abduct their leftovers—or their germs.

I advise you do the same.

I always feels like somebody’s watching me

198 pounds
Dave and I just got home from a two-week trip to visit family . . . first his family in Cincinnati and then mine outside of Chicago. Two weeks is a L O N G time to be away from home, and we were feeling a bit weary by the time we returned.

I’ve always been an emotional eater. It’s not something I’ve talked about much on this blog, but it’s a fact of my life.

When I’m moody, I eat.

When I’m stressed, I eat.

The only emotion that doesn’t make me eat is extreme sadness. For some reason, when I’m really and truly down, food does nothing for me, which I think makes me pretty average. True misery can’t be solved by a gastrointestinal feast, but a temporary bad mood can be pretty much wiped out with a quick trip to Jimmy John’s.

So when I came home from our exhausting trip the other day, I wasn’t surprised that all I wanted to do was eat.

I wanted to eat cheese and crackers. I wanted to eat sliced tomatoes. I wanted to eat roast beef. I wanted to eat salad. I wanted it all.

(I never said I wanted to eat crap; I just said I wanted to eat).

The whole time I felt this way I was aware that my hunger was really about my emotions. They were saying, Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

But when I really thought about it, I was surprised that the emotion I was feeding wasn’t a typical one. Rather than eating because I was down, I was eating because I felt like I hadn’t been able to eat in peace for days . . . even weeks.

That’s because whenever I eat around other people these days I feel like I’m being watched. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t feel like my friends and family are consciously watching me. I just feel like I don’t get enough privacy during meals with others.

Every time I looked across the table while we were on the road, there was someone else looking back at me. It was maddening.

And, as a result, the entire time I felt like I couldn’t eat what I wanted to eat. I was reluctant to go back for seconds, I was anxious about big servings, and I certainly didn’t want to indulge in any high-calorie meals while I was around family.

Seeing someone else across the table may seem normal to you, but I live with just one other person. And he’s usually got his face in a book or his eyes on the TV while we eat. He certainly doesn’t watch me consume my three daily meals.

So when I got home the other night, I felt as if I’d been freed from culinary prison—finally I could eat whatever I wanted and not worry that anyone else was paying attention. Finally I could go back for seconds or pick up food with my fingers or eat a little of something and then put it back without finishing it. I could eat any way or however much I wanted.

It was liberating. Truly liberating.

But now that all that is over, now that I’ve returned to my quiet routine of being the only person who pays attention to what I put in my mouth, I can’t help but wonder why I don’t feel as comfortable eating with other people and what that says about me—as an eater and as a person.

All I really know is the answer is probably more disturbing than I’m willing to admit.

All I want for Christmas . . .

190 pounds

A few days after my “These Kids Today” post, I followed up on my promise to talk to my nieces about body image after my older niece made some slightly inappropriate comments about my body.
I waited until we had a few moments alone—when the girls were changing into their pajamas on Christmas Eve—and then told them that even though I was bigger than their mommy that didn’t mean I wasn’t pretty.
(It was easy for me to say these words to them at this point in my life, but when I said them, I was still well aware how far I’ve come from the person I used to be, the person who couldn’t see herself as remotely attractive, much less pretty, especially when compared to my super fit and adorable blonde sister.)
Immediately, the girls jumped in.
“You are SO pretty,” they said, repeating themselves over and over in case I didn’t believe them: “You are! You are!”
But I did believe them.
Not just because I have more self-esteem than I’ve ever had, but because the two of them routinely compliment the way I look. Yes, they had made some inappropriate comments about my size a few days before, but those comments were the exception rather than the rule, which was another reason I wanted to use those remarks to start a larger discussion about women’s bodies while I had the chance—for all I knew, they would never say anything like that to me again.
“But I want you to understand that size doesn’t have anything to do with beauty,” I explained. “Bigger woman can be just as beautiful as smaller women.”
“Of course, they can!” the girls both agreed without hesitation.
I could see that this was going to be an easy sell, so I decided to go further, explaining to them in detail how genes work and how our body size is determined more by our parents than by our eating and exercise habits. Of course, little kids never miss an opportunity to use any new situation or experience as a way to get even more information, and it wasn’t long before they were asking me if I thought their genes would give them big breasts. I stepped around that minefield as carefully as I could and told them they’d probably look just like their mommy when they grew up, and that seemed to satisfy them.
I also took the opportunity to tell them what I thought of the word “fat”—that it’s a word that is normally used in a mean way, so they shouldn’t use it. They were nodding and seemed to understand, but I wasn’t entirely sure they were still with me.
If I had any doubts about the effectiveness of our talk, they were erased the next day—which just happened to be Christmas—when someone used the word “fat,” and my older niece jumped up from her chair and said, “That’s a bad word! You shouldn’t say that.”
I can honestly say that it was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received.

Season of Indulgence

190 pounds

It’s Christmas Eve, and I just finished spending a long night with my family. We did the usual stuff—got dressed up, went to church, ate a big dinner and some holiday cookies, played games, opened our first gifts. It was an average American Christmas in that sense.
But one thing about the night made me feel a little better about our society’s normally extreme attitude about the way we eat.
My aunt brought several decadent appetizers including an amazing pepper jelly, which she served over cream cheese with Ritz crackers. Let me repeat that . . . served OVER CREAM CHEESE WITH RITZ CRACKERS.
Calories galore.
When she first got it out, we all thought it was too rich and heavy for us to finish before dinner, but as it turned out, we sat around the coffee table noshing on it until there was nothing left but a few smears of orange jelly around the outside of the plate.
It was that good.
And when I said something about how I probably shouldn’t be eating so much, my normally disciplined aunt said, “Who cares? It’s Christmas.”
I had expected someone to agree with me—especially since both my aunt and my sister are exercise nuts and very thin—but instead my aunt reinforced what I already believed: that sometimes we just have to let ourselves go.
And it hit me while we were scraping the serving plate clean that holidays are the one time Americans allow themselves to eat what we want. Whether it’s Christmas or the 4th of July, we let ourselves give into our most indulgent cravings on special occasions and for at least a short time don’t think about how they will affect our waist size or the number on the scale, something Americans almost never do the rest of the year.
Despite all the warnings about gaining weight over the holidays, I’m a firm believer in the importance of indulgence, as I’ve discussed before. Yes, on average people gain up to a pound during the holidays and those pounds add up as time goes on if they are not lost later in the year, but I believe that if we allowed ourselves to indulge all year—and not just during the holidays—we would have less desire to do so on the big days and would be able to do so in moderation. I know it may sound like an oxymoron to promote moderate indulgence, but I do think it’s possible. Because I believe if we allow ourselves decadent foods throughout the year, we are less likely to go completely overboard with them during the holidays.
So, on the one hand, I’m thrilled that Americans let themselves go a little bit over the holidays and consider it a welcome change from the country’s obsession with dieting that monopolizes the rest of the year, but on the other hand, I wish we would all learn to give ourselves more latitude all year long rather than just a few days a year.

Sibling Rivalry

189 pounds

Dave and I went to dinner tonight with my mother and her sister. The two of them are very close even though they are thirteen years apart in age and don’t initially appear to look much alike. But when you really study them, it eventually becomes clear that they share many of the same features—they both have small brown eyes, a tiny upturned nose, and a thin, delicate mouth.

One of the reasons that it’s hard to see these similarities is because my mother and aunt have completely different body shapes—my mother is short and squat, and her sister is long and lean. My aunt also wears her hair in a trendy hairstyle and dons age-appropriate but hip clothing. From a distance, she could easily pass for someone in her thirties and forties even though she’s in her mid-fifties, and she is—by anyone’s definition—very attractive.
As a child, my aunt was a bit of a nerd—wearing cat’s eye glasses and looking awkward in her own skin. On the other hand, my mother, a former cheerleader and homecoming attendant, was a head-turning carbon copy of Jackie O in her day. Though she still retains some of that beauty, my mom now looks more like a grandmother than anything else—she wears her hair in a short permed style and has a penchant for tops decorated with flowers. So in some ways, the two of them have traded places—now my aunt is the one who is turning heads, and my mother is the one who feels uncomfortable in her body.
As a result of their differences, my mother often compliments her younger sister on everything—her clothes, her hair, her makeup, and of course, her body. And being the good niece, I also compliment her. I want my aunt (and everyone) to feel good about herself and know how attractive she looks. Which is why I told her how great she looked tonight.
But when I said so, my mother’s response caught me completely off guard. She said, “Well, she works out every day!” as if this were the only explanation for my aunt’s trim figure.
“I work out every day too,” I said to my mother defensively, but based on her response, it was clear that she didn’t get my point.
“But Vicki works out really hard,” she added. My mother’s implication was clear: If I worked out as hard as my aunt, I would be that thin too. And hand in hand with that implication was another one: if I’m not as thin as my aunt, then I’m not trying hard enough.
I’m sure it will be no surprise for me to tell you that I was having none of it: “I work out hard too!” I insisted. “When I lived in Cincinnati, I worked out two hours every day for an entire year, but during that whole time, I never lost any weight.”
“That’s true,” my mother said. “There are other factors involved.” Finally, my mother had figured out what I was trying to say, and why her original comment could easily be construed as misleading, even offensive.
But I don’t blame my mother for the misunderstanding. I blame society. We are all taught—through the constant stream of advertisements for the latest fad diet and gym memberships—that if we are willing to discipline ourselves, then we can lose weight. And not just lose weight, but be thin. Model thin.
In reality, there are many people who are genetically designed to be bigger than the kind of women we glorify in our society. No matter how much they diet. No matter how much they exercise. And the implication that a woman is bigger or curvier because of her own lack of discipline is, quite simply, offensive. It may even be dangerous. Because it sends the message that if we are not model thin, then it is because we are not trying, we are not good. That message really frightens me, and it’s one I will forever try to dispel—both here on the blog and every time I have dinner with people like my mother and my hot cougar of an aunt.

The model cousin

194 pounds

I caught up with two of my favorite cousins last week in Nashville, and though I was thrilled to see them for the first time in years, I was horrified by the way my self-confidence plummeted in their presence. I’ve talked before about the way family members can affect how we see ourselves, but I don’t think I realized before last week, that this can happen even when we are around family members with whom we have supportive and loving relationships. I guess that’s what took me by surprise: I’ve always been close with these cousins, I’ve always enjoyed their company, and never once have I thought that they were judgmental about the way I look. So why did my self-perception change so dramatically when I saw them?

The first thing that might have played into this change is the way my cousin Jim looked. Most of the people on my mother’s side of the family are solidly built, and as a former high school football player, Jim has always been broad shouldered and brawny. But when he walked through the door of my favorite Nashville restaurant last week, he was so thin that I barely recognized him. Jim had slimmed down after high school, but he still always had that hulking footballer look. This was not the case last week. The man who met us for dinner was a far cry from the Jim I had grown up with. In fact, he’s now what I would call model thin—not too thin, but thin enough that it’s easy to imagine him posing for an underwear ad. I was, of course, surprised by the change in his physique, but more than anything, I was surprised by how handsome he looked. Never a bad looking guy, Jim is now a bona fide hottie.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if underneath his former football player body, this model had been waiting to come out all along.
You can probably guess what I thought next—is there a model inside of me waiting to come out? Could I look that good if I lost a significant amount of weight? Have I been approaching this whole weight loss thing the exactly wrong way???
After dinner, my other cousin Jeff got out his camera for a few pictures, but when I looked at the first one, I was horrified by what I saw. I had turned to the side for the photo, and when I looked at my image on the tiny camera screen, all I saw was arm. A huge, flabby, fleshy piece of whale arm. I was disgusted with myself.
I had not seen Jeff or Jim in years, and here we were, finally reunited—Jim looking like he’d just stepped out of the pages of GQ and Jeff as boyish and cute as always—and I imagined I must have reminded them of the fatty ham our grandmother put out every year at the family’s Christmas dinner.
Admittedly, this is exactly the kind of talk—exactly the kind of thinking—that I want to steer people away from on this blog. But that doesn’t mean I’m entirely immune to it.
Yes, I was feeling horribly unattractive in the moment, but I was also simultaneously angry with myself for breaking the very rules I set forth on this blog. So if I understood even then how wrong it was to see myself that way, why did I still do it?
The answer is probably too complex for someone who’s not schooled in the psychology of the mind to fully understand, but I can take a guess: when we’re around family, we revert to the roles of our childhood, whether they be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. When I saw Jeff and Jim, I became the person they grew up with—the insecure, awkward, somewhat nerdy child of my youth. I often become this way around my immediate family, but it surprised me that I would do this with my cousins as well. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in me. It’s that they reminded me of the person I used to be. And maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world to remember whom we used to be. Otherwise, how would we be able to recognize how much we’ve changed and grown?
Maybe there is a model lurking somewhere deep inside of me. A model I might be able to find if I were willing to starve myself for the rest of my life, which is what I’d have to do to lose and keep off the fifty pounds I’d need to shed to find that model. But what’s different between the me I am now and the me I was when I was a kid roller-skating with Jeff and Jim in our grandmother’s basement is that I no longer want to be that model. I no longer believe that I’ll finally be happy when I look like I’ve just stepped out of the pages of Vogue.
No, I no longer believe that happiness is something I’m waiting for. Now I believe it’s something I already have.
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