Monday, November 07, 2005

The Epiphany: The Lottery Ticket

Actually, my epiphany wasn't all that stupendous, at least on the surface. But the flash was significant for me: I couldn't embark on yet another diet.

That's right. No more diets. Ever.

Instead, as of August 28, 2005, I was starting another journey: making a major change in the way I approach food and how I choose to eat.

Let's back track. Back in the early nineties, I bought into the then-popular "Eat-what-you-want-and-your-body-will-tell-you-when-you're-hungry" program. I even wrote a short essay titled "Are You Thin Yet?" published in Eating Our Hearts Out: Personal Accounts of Women's Relationship with Food (1993), edited by Leslea Newman. At the time, it was a heartfelt essay, written with good intentions, but I kept waiting for my body to kick in that appestat control.

It never did. I felt like some kind of freak whose "natural" appetite was cranked into overdrive. And despite my very public promise to never fall into the diet trap, I did--several times, the last major diet in 1999; I lost about 80 pounds, but with the help of phentermine, and despite the diet pill, I was still always hungry--I'm one of those people who tend to experience the "opposite" effects from medication. Still, I more or less kept the weight off for about two years, probably the longest time I have ever sustained a weight loss. But, over time, the pounds crept upward, and by 2003 I was pretty much back to where I started in 1999. Since 2003, I have had several mini-diet starts, the longest lasting three months.

Back to August 28. The night before, I had been on this diet for about three weeks, and I caved, bingeing on ballpark potato chips and a health bar, some chocolate peanut butter glob that tasted like a sugared super vitamin.

I had sunk to an all-time low. It wasn't even creative: just a cheap binge--I had sold out my diet for a tasteless handful of greasy chips and an oblong of artificially manufactured block of protein that buffos use in place of an entire meal. I could have at least done the dirty deed right by glomming down on a Dairy Queen Caramel Moolatte (extra whipped cream--why the hell not?).

But, no.

The next morning, I vowed to pick myself up, and start from square one.

Then, the little voice: "I can't do this anymore."

The tight-jawed determination. The promises. The wavering. The fall. The self disgust. The vicious cycle redux.

Still, I dragged out all the diet books, some of them over 30 years old--at 55, I've been doing this diet thing a long time.

I'm a professional dieter. I have weights and measures memorized, and I can look at a hunk of meat and guess accurately its weight and calorie count. I know good and bad proteins, carbs, sugars. I can calculate glycemic quotients.

I just can't keep off extra weight.

I look at thin people and wonder how they sustain their normal weights. I want to know their secrets, not just the cliched input/output model. I already know that. I want to know how they relegate food to the realm of ordinary, how they don't obsess about Moolattes and homemade mashed potatoes drowning in butter. Even babies know when to stop eating--I'm being bested by beings who still mess their pants and throw their nummies on the floor. Future fatties are not usually born that way--they learn it somehow, just like I had.

I remember my first binge: I was 7 and gorged on three glazed doughnuts. Then my grandparents took me for a ride on the L.A. freeway. In the middle of summer. In the days before ordinary people had car airconditioning. Bumper-to-bumper traffic.

I hurled, shooting doughnut chunks right into the next car...

Well, all I can say: I lived to tell about it.

I went on my first diet when I was 8, my main meal of the day involving all the lettuce I wanted, sprinkled with sugar. By 9, I was on a pink diet pill and a gray thyroid pill that I chewed because I was so hungry all the time, and it tasted like a morsel of food. Then my doctor prescribed a downer because the diet pill wired me, and I couldn't sleep, which meant I couldn't get up for school.

For some inexplicable reason, I never became an addicted abuser of pills, alcohol, or illegal drugs, though it wasn't for lack of trying. I thoroughly enjoyed the illicit fruits of the 1960's.

My fatal flaw and downfall has always been an unhealthy relationship with food.

Food isn't a substance one can stop cold turkey. That's known as anorexia, and I have flirted with that, too, but not in recent years. I'm nipping at the heels of senior citizenship, and to totally stop eating now would certainly hasten my trek into the hereafter--not quite there yet. But when I was in high school, I often fasted for three days at a time, cultivating that gaunt face that teenagers seem to like. I drew pictures of sickly-looking girls with long pale hair, ghostly glowing skin, black smudged eyeliner framing liquid blue eyes, and pink--almost white--lips.

No longer an option.

So here's my epiphany: I can't get rid of my substance of choice; I can't stub out that last bread crust, toss out my stash of hamburger, and vow to NEVER take a bite of food, as long as I live.

Every day, I will wake up and, first thing, inhale my coffee. Sooner or later, I will feel that first pang that will send me on the hunt for sustenance. Feed the kitty.

Denying the kitty its feed = stoking the monster's wrath.

Dieting = stoking the up appestat.

Never fails.

Denying the body what it needs and wants = failure.

I've always known this, of course, but my knowledge was abstract and superficial. I didn't really know, at least not deep in my gut. During the nineties, I made a stab at this reality, but I misinterpreted it as license to eat whatever I wanted, without guilt, and that this mythical appetite control would kick in and, kum-ba-ya, hello, road to thinness.

This approach may have worked for some people, but not for me. I just kept eating, a juggernaut eating machine, devouring whatever nuggets lay in my path.

And as I yo-yoed up and down, the nineties morphed into the oughts.

2005. Right on my book shelf, I found an 11-year-old paperback with a 1990 Pennsylvania Super 7 lottery ticket tucked between pages 138 and 139. Pennsylvania used to print out such colorful tickets, with pictures of interesting state landmarks--this one depicts Pittsburgh and its three rivers. I can't claim it's a winning ticket--otherwise, I'd have a few cool million in the bank, and the ticket would be framed in gesso and hanging on my wall, instead of stashed in a yellowed paperback, but if you're superstitious and believe in fate, the numbers are 1, 15, 31, 41, 50, 64, 70. Date of ticket: January 17, 1990. Maybe those numbers have meaning, too. You figure it out.
Numbers have always gotten me into trouble: number of calories, number of ounces, numbers on the scale, number of inches around my waist and hips--count this, count that...

The lottery ticket itself isn't so important, but where I found it is. On page 139, the author instructs the reader to list 10 favorite foods.

That I might be able to acknowledge my 10 favorite foods--without guilt--may turn out to be one of the most important revelations of my life.

Next time: the meaning of the list.


Jennifer Semple Siegel

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