Sunday, December 25, 2005

Holiday eating, Buddha, Omar Khayyam

I posted ( the following to a fellow Diet Survivors member, who was experiencing some difficulties with overeating during the holidays:

I ate more than usual yesterday, but I looked around and noticed that my skinny relatives also overate today.

I think we can take a cue from our naturally thin counterparts in that they don't worry about overeating during special occasions. They will not feel guilty about what they ate on Christmas; in fact, they assume that they will overeat on holidays. What will happen, though, is that, without consciously thinking about it, they will return to normal eating. They will once again listen to their hunger and satiety levels.

We can do the same thing, only we have to consciously cue into our hunger levels--that's just a fact of life for us. I don't know if intuitive eating will ever truly become second nature to me, though I knew I had overeaten because I felt a little acid indigestion--my body's way of warning me. I'm sure I used to experience this same sensation, but, for the first time in my life, I'm starting to listen to those warnings. For once, I was able to stop eating and not embark on a full-blown binge. But I did overeat yesterday, and that's a fact.

If you can self-talk yourself out of the guilt, that might help alleviate some of your depressed feelings. Try to view eating as a pleasurable activity instead of a major source of guilt. Somehow, we have managed to associate our love for certain foods with a kind of moral lapse, and, maybe, we need to change our thinking.

I noticed, ______, that you're worried about how you want to be thin by next Christmas--that sounds like the ghost of the diet treadmill past. Instead, why not strive toward living for today?

Consider taking a cue from Buddha's mantra/poem/prayer (from Pali Canon), which is also considered a "Gestalt prayer":

Do not hark back to things that passed,
And for the future cherish no fond hopes;
The past was left behind by thee,
The future state has not yet come.

But who with vision clear can see
The present which is here and now
Such wise one should aspire to win
What never can be lost or shaken.

[NOTE: I started to type the word "stolen" for "shaken"--hmmm, interesting...]

Omar Khayyam, from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (translated by Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah, 1968), says,

Never anticipate tomorrow's sorrow
live always in this paradisal Now--...

Rise up, why mourn this transient world of men?
Pass your whole life in gratitude and joy.

_______, listen to that whisper that scolded you about the diety thinking: "But my inner voice is telling me what a mistake that would be."

Those are wise words.

Love, Jennifer


Friday, December 23, 2005

Slobbery: This "sculpture" says it all...

The semester has ended.

I'm exhausted, but in a happy way. I have made lots of discoveries in the past five months.

My life has changed forever. I have been on mega diets, but I have never felt the sense of my life changing significantly, that is, until now.

Also, my book received a five-star review.

Thanks, Linda! Someone "gets" Samantha!

Anyway, I'm really shot (and Christmas is almost here--eek!), but I thought you'd appreciate these two representations of my artistic expression--performance (or lack of) performance art at its sloppiest.

In other words, my house is an abode gone wild.



Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The UnDiet, Eyeballin', Greed-Gluttony, and Pickiness

I'm taking a short break from grading papers (end of the semester) because something important is on my mind, and I don't want to lose my thoughts. I promise, LIT160 and WRT310, I will grade your work in a timely manner (and I am a little ahead of schedule), but I have to do this for me. I know you're impatient, but chill a little; you're going to spend the next 50-60 years waiting around for others to come through for you (Wait until you have kids!).

The UnDiet

Here's the deal: even though I'm trying to work in hara hachi bu into my daily life, it's not an automatic response. I can't expect to conquer years of dysfunctional eating in one or two months. That's totally unrealistic. To be honest, sometimes I just can't tell when I'm 80% full, so I have to determine the fullness factor by eyeballin' my food in advance. Incorporate hara hachi bu as a best-guess factor. Unfortunately, the fixed portion method does not take into consideration the human and environmental factors, the reality that, like the weather, our bodily needs change day-to-day. But, for now, this is the best I can do.

In the past few days, I have noticed a sharp increase in hunger pangs, and hunger happening at odd hours: in middle of the night and upon awakening. This is most definitely an unusual pattern for me, a confirmed breakfast skipper. Also, I may have had a lot of bad eating habits, but eating in the middle of the night has never been a part of my modus operandi. My appestat works well at certain times: the early a.m., specifically. My danger time seems to fall between 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. My "hunger" tends to fall off after 10 or so, even when I don't give in and eat.

I take this current deviation as a sign that I need to eat a little more, even if I gain some weight. I have just finished reading Linda Moran's How to Survive Your Diet: And Conquer Your Food Issues Forever. She offers what I think is a revolutionary concept that flies in the face of conventional dieting "wisdom": that it's okay to fluctuate slightly in terms of weight loss and gain--that we have to give our bodies what they need, thus sacrificing instant gratification in terms of weight loss, rapid or otherwise. But we have to give ourselves permission to accept this without feeling guilty (the toughest part).

So I'm eating more food. Not a lot--this isn't a feast or famine situation, just a solution to a potential problem. This is the time when most of my diets derail: my body, in a semi-state of starvation, cries out for more sustenance, and I would ignore its plea, until I could no longer ignore its cries for help. Then I would spiral out of control and embark on a binge, sometimes lasting months, even years.

My body would always impose its will, exact its revenge.

Well, no more. I'm not on a diet; I'm on an UnDiet, a lifetime endeavor, so I would be remiss in not listening to my body's needs.

In terms of hunger, our bodies seem to follow the seasons. It's extremely cold right now, and it's chilly in our drafty house, so my body (hot flashes notwithstanding) has to work harder to stay warm. Conversely, when it's hot, my hunger levels off. So it's time to listen to those variations in cues. If I were a "natural" thin person, I would instinctively do this, but I'm not, so I have to compensate and make a conscious effort to tune in what my body is telling me.

However, when you're overweight and wanting to lose excess weight, it's discombobulating to systematically incorporate more food. It's counterintuitive to what everyone "knows" about the input/output model of eating. Sigh. Were it so simple...


Eyeballin'. I love this word--it sounds so casual, almost flirty. I think it has originated with one of those sexist he-man 70's movies, referring to predatory men checking out sexy women. But I have also seen it as a term for estimating portions, perhaps on Dietsurvivors, maybe elsewhere. The point is: I didn't come up with the word, but, just the same, I have hijacked it for my own purposes.

One positive side effect of my dieting years: I'm good at eyeballin' portions. I can take a hunk of hamburger, eyeball it, and guess its weight within a few grams. So that's what I've been doing. It feels right and natural--second nature. In that sense, dieting has ingrained in me a concept of portion control. I can make that skill work for me.

I don't particularly buy into the popular non-dieting practice of "leaving food on my plate," especially when I'm the one who has already eyeballed portions in advance. For an UnDieter, leaving portioned food behind seems too artificial and obsessive.

Two exceptions: (1) In the rare instances when I can actually feel "80%-full" kicking in, and (2) eating food away from home when I haven't eyeballed my food in advance. Then leaving food behind makes sense. It's a way of re-exerting some control in an environment where we have relinquished a significant amount of control.

Re: restaurants: I like the idea of requesting a to-go box before my meal arrives. That way, I can eyeball my food before digging in and put away what I don't need. Out of sight, out of mind (mostly). Which brings me to the next topic on my mind:


Portions served in American restaurants are super-sized--no secret there--but we don't need to feel helpless and greedy before the bacchanalian altar of indulgence. We can make choices in how much food and drink we wish to consume: supersized, medium, or small portions.

Restaurants are only too happy to serve up mega-portions. For example, last night, my husband Jerry had to attend a school obligation which involved going out to eat. Having a night class, he didn't have time to finish his meal past the soup, so he brought the rest home in a go-box. I don't normally go into details about calories and such, but what Jerry ate and brought home tells the all-American story of mega-portions (eyeballed calories):
  • Potato leek soup, 150 calories
  • 6-ounce Chicken breast with cheese, 300 calories
  • Large oblong roll, 400 calories
  • French fries, 240 calories
  • Garnish: 2 small pieces of ham, drizzled with cheese, 150 calories
  • Fats, 150 calories (mayo, butter, etc.)

Estimated total calories: 1,390!

For one person at one meal. Americans expect to receive these huge amounts--our appetites have been trained to accept these large portions.

But months of adjusting my portions have trained my eye to view the above meal as outrageously gluttonous.

My first irrational reaction to the leftovers: ILLEGAL FOOD!

My second irrational reaction: YOU CAN'T EAT THAT!

My third irrational reaction: THROW IT OUT!

My sensible reaction: NO LAW SAYS YOU CAN'T EAT THAT FOOD!

So for lunch today, Jerry and I split the food (minus the soup, and, for me, only one-fourth of the roll); it was delicious, and I don't feel sick or guilty. This was a time that hara hachi bu actually kicked in, and, basing my decision on true fullness, I left part of my bread and chicken and ate it later.

I'm not trying to be sanctimonious here--I'm saying that with some hard work and difficult decision making, we can train our eyes and our bodies to make sensible choices. We can't expect the food industry to do that for us.

For very little expense, restaurants increase the portions they serve, thus advertising a "good value." It's a fiction, of course, helping their bottom line (excuse the intentional pun) but harming ours. Does it make sense for us to clean our restaurant plates and have to pay Weight Watchers, Optifast, SlimFast, Nutrisystem, etc. so that we can take off the weight we have gained?

Linda Moran uses the word "greed" in conjunction with overeating. I grew up a Catholic and had to memorize the Seven Capital (or Deadly) Sins: Lust, Greed, Envy, Pride, Covetousness, Anger, Sloth, and Gluttony. Interesting that the Church would have two words for (basically) the same sin, but "Gluttony" seems to cover overeating and overdrinking specifically.

I prefer Linda's use of "greed," because her reference covers more than just food. She views "greed" as extending beyond food overindulgence and into other aspects of life, such as "greedy" weight loss, among other ways to be greedy.

I have made a decision to work on my propensity toward greed--and I do have much work ahead of me and not just about food.

Almost everyone has been a glutton, even naturally thin people on special occasions. But thin folks move on and return to normal eating and drinking--they don't look back with deep regret and guilt.

Greed, on the other hand, feels more systemic, more deeply ingrained, more, well, greedy.


Until recently, it has never occurred to me that I could be a picky eater, but food pickiness makes perfect sense. Why would I want to spend a disproportionate amount of my life eating food that doesn't appeal to me? Why can't I eat the foods I like? Why must I buy into someone else's idea of what's good to eat and what's good for me? Shouldn't that decision be up to me? So what if some of my food choices seem odd and obsessive to others?

I like artificial sweetner on my salad, and I don't like salad dressing, even full fat. I despise mayo. I eat sunflower seeds nearly every day--I look forward to that treat. I love catfish, poached in lime soda and then grilled with onions, and could eat it every day of my life (but I like other things, too, like salmon, shrimp, crab, scallops, chicken, and steak). I like fried egg whites (as a kid, I'd eat around the egg yolk). I love bing cherries, which are now $6.00 a pound (when you can find them). I love sorbet, especially papaya and pineapple, but I want it to be made with real sugar, not artificial sweetner.

I can choose to politely refuse foods I don't like and accept (without guilt) those things that I do like, even if they are hi-cal, formerly forbidden foods, as long as I listen to my body cues and stop when I'm no longer hungry or, at least, when I think I might have had enough.

Is that a workable plan, or what?

Jennifer Semple Siegel

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sending Poems Out in Public and Dietsurvivors

Tomorrow (actually, later today), I must begin the end-of-the-semester blitz, mega-grading of creative writing portfolios, tests, and literary journals, so my posting might drop off a bit for a while.

Sometimes, I'd like to return my students' portfolios with the below poem enclosed, but I don't; they're still learning and finding their voices. Not easy for them to tell when a poem is truly finished.

How Not to Send a Poem Out Into Public

So, then, I slip into my sweats, you know,
The torn pants splattered with mustard
Stains on the knees from the Cheesy Corned
Cliché I chowed down on two weeks ago.
The top, ripped at the seams, proclaims,
"I need, I breed; therefore, it’s art."
I, a swine of a poem penned
In a journal, yearn for that choice
Artsy Sestina to ask me out...
Three a.m.
I sigh and sink
Into the Laz-y-Boy, and click on
FOX 39. M*A*S*H.
YES! I wallow in sweat. Gamy
Modifiers bunch around my ankles;
I spit out verbal grunts, shaking my
Bristled hair without a point, passing
Adverbial gas because it feels SO good, and who’s here
To care? I glom down on buttered Redenbacher’s,
Greasy similes sliding down my throat, pimples erupting
On my prose. Pop one for the ad libber...
Ah, yes, I will surely die in this chair.
As the M*A*S*H suicide song dies down,
The phone rings–that foxy Sestina from art class!
"You want to go out for a poetic pepperoni pizza?"
"Whatever." (Yes! Yes! Yes!)
I’ve been waiting for Sestina to ask,
"Pizza Parody in six/three? That is, six
Six-line stanzas and one three-line envoi
(Hold all Imitations)?"
"Whatever." (Yes! Yes! Yes!)
So, then, I drop the phone to the floor,
Roll out of the Laz-y-Boy,
Waddle out the door,
Like really weirded out.

Sometimes I give out the poem early in the semester, but I didn't this year. Instead, I showed them one of my early poems--which shall remain unposted--they had a good laugh. Shows them that writers don't pop out the womb with pen in hand. In some ways, natural talent notwithstanding, creative writing has to be learned and, sometimes, unlearned and relearned.

It's amazing what a deadline will do in terms of placing issues on the back burner. It always gets a bit hairy this time of year, and everyone feels tense and out of sorts. I also have issues with Christmas and the gross commercialism of the season--and the emphasis on food!

For those readers with food issues, I recommend Dietsurvivors highly; I hope the link works.



Friday, December 09, 2005

SNOW! Day pics!

Hey, wannabe snowbunnies!

More snowy pics.

Just got in from shoveling. Pretty to look at, but the devil to shovel. It was a very heavy snow; and my back is killing me. Well, must run, folks!

Cheers! Jennifer

(York, Pennsylvania, December 9, 2005)

More Snow!

One more picture before I hit the sack.

Happy sledding!

Cherokee, Iowa: a memoir and a chunky teenager


I just took this pic a few minutes ago. My camera isn't very good for night pics, but I wanted to capture this first major storm of the season. I'll try to get a day shot tomorrow and post it then. I live in South Central Pennsylvania, so we'll see if the actual storm matches the hype from the meteorologist.

Speaking of wintertime events: On February 19, 1969, I was involuntarily committed to Cherokee Mental Health Institute, where I was held for two months.

I am currently writing a memoir about that time, and in the near future, I plan to open a new blog and post select pieces of the book. But it has never been my intention for that story to migrate over to this blog. I have always felt that these were two separate events and never quite got the connection between my struggles with weight and the consequences of my "Better Living Through Chemistry" era.

Back track: After I graduated (1968) from high school, I left Iowa and split for California and embraced the pharmaceutical delights of the day: LSD, marijuana, and speed (bennies). My boyfriend at the time was a drug dealer and just plain bad news.

(Cherokee Mental Health Institute,
Cherokee, Iowa: August 30, 2004)

To make a long story very short, my grandparents talked me going back to Iowa "to get my head back on straight."

I agreed only because I wanted to be closer to Pennsylvania, where another young man lived (he later became the father of my only child, my husband, and then ex-husband). Somehow, the flawed logic of an 18-year-old girl started off a chain of complicated events that resulted in Woodbury County, Iowa, deeming me "mentally incompetent."

I probably wouldn't have even remembered much of this time--it was rather traumatic, and I certainly spent 30+ years trying to hide that aspect of my life--but I, a confirmed packrat, kept the 90+ letters that Jeff and I exchanged during that time. The letters offer a lens into that fascinating time in history, though my heels were pretty much cooled while I was incarcerated.

At that time, I was close to normal weight, and I actually lost a few pounds while I was at Cherokee--the food was unspeakably dreadful, such delights like green scrambled eggs having the consistency of a water-logged sponge. It's a wonder I didn't die of food poisoning.

As I combed through my letters, I was struck by my constant references to food: meals I had to eat, meals I wished I could have eaten, noshing evening snacks on the ward, elaborate descriptions of Sunday dinners. I don't actually remember any of this obsession with food, but the letters offer irrefutable proof.

The most interesting connection comes from my hospital records, which I requested in 2002, in the opening sentence of my mental evaluation:

Miss Semple, a slightly overweight 18 year old female, was cooperative, pleasant, rather cheerful and somewhat adolescent in manner. She wore poorly applied eye makeup which gave her a slightly unusual appearance. She responded quickly and with fairly good efficiency. Some manifest anxiety was noted in her tendency to repeat questions before answering.

Isn't that amazing?

The fact of my weight carried (excuse the pun) the weight of my evaluation, even over my "poorly applied eye makeup" (I had been crying), obvious adolescence (well, duh), and "fairly good efficiency" (scared shitless, convinced I was insane, and trying not to be "found out").


Talk about a major strike against me.

Fortunately, I was eventually able to con my way out of the institution. In the end, my doctor proved to be a good guy, funny, and compassionate. But he was a product of a culture that defined women by their bodily shape, and I was not only a druggie, but I had made the egregious blunder of being chunky (opposed to being Twiggy-esque, a popular stick-thin model).
I don't think that attitude has changed too much.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

e-Fatlady's childhood picture

I was four years old when this photo was taken, probably around 1954 or 1955. I remember that day, a bitter Sioux City winter, snowy and bone chilling cold. Mo, my grandmother, packed that crinkly blouse and gray felt skirt into a cosmetic case, helped me into dungarees, and bundled me into a red snowsuit. My permed hair was flat against my skull, tamed with black bobby pins.

At the photo studio, I had to unbundle and then dress up in that outfit, and I remember Mo "combing out" that awful 1950's hair style. (What were they thinking, anyway?)

I don't remember much about posing, just repacking the outfit, bundling up again, and going home. I don't know why that day was so memorable--maybe it was the last time I felt special in my own family.

As a teenager, I used to study this picture, envying my early childhood skinniness. How pathetic is that?

In 2005, that photograph represents a time in my life when eating had no warped issues attached to it, and the tiny body mirrored back to me reflects that simple time.

I was skinny up until about age six, when I became a little chunky. Not fat, mind you. But I remember my mom's and grandmother's alarmed conversations about my fat. Never mind that Mom had a serious drinking problem (among other problems).

In our family, a fat child was an unacceptable commodity; alcoholism was the norm--at least that was my perception.

When I was eight, the family rallied around my weight problem, hiding food from me. I rebelled by stashing food all over the place. I spent my allowance money on snacks instead of cheap toys. To this day, I can remember the junk food I bought, stashed, and ate in secret:
  • 1 Packet of Grape Lick-em Aid powder (which I ate instead of mixing as a drink) (2 cents)
  • 2 Orange gumballs (1 cent each)
  • 1 Grape gumball (1 cent)
  • 1 Reese's Peanut Butter Cup (5 cents)
  • 1 Mallow Cup (5 cents)
  • 1 Cherry Bing (a Sioux City candy bar with a cherry nougat center, coated in chocolate and peanuts--still a local favorite) (5 cents)
  • 1 package of sunflower seeds, still in the shell and salted (5 cents)
  • 5 pieces of cinnamon Jolly Rancher hard candy (5 cents)

Quite a bit of junk for 30 cents. It's no accident that sunflower seeds have made my top ten list of favorite foods, but my tastes have matured, and I now prefer them shelled and unsalted.

I even developed a hierarchy of how the foods were to be eaten, starting with the Lick-em Aid. It was sweet and tarty, so it had to be consumed first. Then I chewed one of the orange gumballs, until all the sugar was gone, and then I'd spit it out, and pop in the grape gumball, and continue with the second orange gumball. I pretty much stuck with the order noted as above.

Why? Who knows...? At the time it seemed important to establish a binge routine.

My grandmother spent a lot of energy trying to root out my stash, but most of the time I ate it before she could get her hands on it.

Food was so important that I, a Catholic girl, once considered selling my soul to the devil just so I could eat all the peanut butter cups I wanted without getting fat, but I stopped short of actually conjuring up the Prince of Darkness.

I was nine.

Had I known about purging to stay thin, I probably would have done it. Beats selling one's soul for such a pittance.

When I went on my first diet, I was eight. By the time I was nine, I was popping little pink pills that killed my appetite, but they made me crawl the walls, so our family doctor prescribed sleeping pills so I could sleep at night. I hated them because I felt stupid on them, so I would pretend to take them but then spit them out when my grandmother turned out the lights. No one could figure out why I was still bouncing off the walls.

When I was 10, the doctor decided that I needed thyroid pills; it was a little gray pill that tasted sweet, so I chewed it like food--I took these pills for years. (Turns out that my thyroid has always been perfectly normal.)

By the time I was 11, no one had to tell me to diet; I was doing it on my own, happily scarfing down those pink and gray pills and alternating between bingeing and fasting--either on a diet or on a binge. No middle ground.

The teenage years. I was totally out of whack; I had lost the ability to discern hunger, a problem that has dogged me ever since. I'm just now beginning to sense my hunger and satiety cues, but it's still an uncertain process that will take time before becoming second nature.

Anyone who says this process is a quick fix is in denial.

My short story "Are You EVER Going to be Thin?" is a fictional representation of how my family handled my "weight problem." The story is companion piece to my essay "Are You Thin Yet?" posted earlier on this blog. If you're interested in reading the piece, here's the link:

Anyway, I'm going to try posting this photo on the first page of this blog. I think it's small enough.

I want people to know that we don't start out life as fat people--for some of us, something happens along the way, and our bodies begin to betray us.

'Til next time,

Jennifer Semple Siegel

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm the Gal from S.C.A.N.T.

Thank you, dietsurvivors.

This non-dieting system is beginning to come together for me; as I read more of Linda Moran's book How to Survive Your Diet: And Conquer Your Food Issues Forever, I realize just how much the "should-nots" have dominated my life. I won't say that Linda Moran's book has given me the power to reclaim my eating life--I have had to do that myself--but her words resonate so true and are almost so obvious (and yet not obvious), but I'm ready to hear them. I do recommend the book, which can be ordered at or at Amazon.

I don't normally hawk products (other than what adsense sends my way, and even then, I have the option of filtering out companies that I find dishonest and immoral like a certain vanity poetry publisher, which shall remain unnamed), but this book is important to people who want to consider non-dieting as a life choice. There are other good self-help books out there, but this one especially resonates for me, at least so far, because Linda does not anoint herself as some all-knowing and almighty diet guru. She simply states what works for her, and asks her readers to trust her enough to read the entire book all the way through and then take what we need from it. That's a fair expectation.

Ironically, from what I can gather, Linda is a thin person; I never thought a thin person could ever give good advice to fat people, but I'm coming to realize that our issues are not all that far apart. She has never indicated that she's a natural thin person, but has admitted to having an exercise addiction. And in my book, an addiction is an addiction.

Also, I have been reading and posting at Linda's Yahoo! support group for non-dieters. It's a lively site with good people posting their greatest triumphs and worst fears. And, in a cyberspace sort of way, we help support one another.

A few days ago, on December 4, I celebrated a four-month anniversary. Actually, I didn't celebrate anything; I forgot about the anniversary and just thought of it now.

On August 4, after returning from Macedonia and Sioux City, Iowa (where I was born and raised), I decided to go on a diet. I was 207 pounds (I'm only 5'3 3/4), so the enterprise was sort undertaken under duress. All the bad gastro problems, night sweats, and heavy snoring dominated my life; also, I could barely get in my "fat" shorts, and I felt uncomfortable in a body that was increasingly feeling awkward and bloated.

I dreaded the whole process, but I gritted my teeth, and started my umteenth diet. If you wish to read about what happened after that, feel free to read my past posts: "A New Life Journey" (11/7), "The Epiphany: The Lottery Ticket" (11/7), "The Epiphany: The Lottery Ticket, Revisited" (11/16).

Suffice to say, I gave up the diet plan. Three weeks after my resolve, I binged and pretty much gave up, period.

Then I dug out a book, criticizing the commercial diet industry as a cartel of money-grubbing con artists who played on the fears and dreams of the overweight, bought over 10 years ago and found a "diet" idea that could actually work: making a list of my 10 favorite foods and incorporating them into my daily diet.

A light bulb moment.

Before then, it had never occurred to me that a "diet" could contain my favorite foods, unless they were nutritious and low cal. Taste didn't matter a whole lot, just that certain foods equaled weight loss.

In one "aha" moment, my whole concept about weight loss shattered. I started weaving in some of my favorite foods, but, in the end, I was still on a diet of sorts.

On November 9, driving home from class, I heard an NPR interview with the authors of Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. Something caught my ear: an Okinawan cultural practice called hara hachi bu--eating until you're 80% full.

That was my W.O.W. (Way Over Wonderful) moment.

Shortly after that, I googled hara hachi bu, and found dietsurvivors.

Now I'm at the point where I need to develop my own life plan, based on my personal needs and preferences, a plan that I can work with for the rest of my life.

I have come up with a working outline for my own non-dieting plan: S.C.A.N.T.

So Iwould like to share my ideas with anyone who might be interested. Keep in mind, though, that this is my plan. It might not work for everyone or anyone (but me, and, from time to time, I might have to revise).

S.C.A.N.T. is an acronym:

S = Sustainability and simplicity. My plan has to work for the long, long haul, and it has to be simple. I'm the family cook who hates to cook, so my plan has to be devoid of complicated and fussy recipes.

C = Culling and cutting. Like most other cultures already do, I'll eat only the amount of food I really need to survive, and consciously develop finicky eating habits, declining food I don't really like and/or want.

A = Activity. (I'm still working on this, but I refuse to allow organized exercise to take over my life--it has in the past. On the other hand, my body does require more activity than it currently gets. Did I say I was perfect? Oops.).

N = Nutrition. Given the limited amount of food in my plan, I have to pay special attention to basic nutrition, especially at my age. In my case, that means vitamins and calcium supplements; that way, I can avoid eating foods and liquids I dislike, such as most milk products.

T = Taste. My diet must be filled with tasty foods I like, and every food in my list of favorites should be legalized, even high fat and low nutrition items. I must recognize that eating does not just involve fulfilling physiological needs but, also, psychological and social needs.

So, for now, that's about it.

Later, I will devote individual posts to each aspect of S.C.A.N.T.

But, for now, I am the gal from S.C.A.N.T.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts!


Jennifer Semple Siegel

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rhia Alden Brown, 1 year old today

Is she cute, or what?

Okay, so Rhia is my granddaughter; when she was born one year ago today, I was in Macedonia. When Jerry applied for the Fulbright, we had no idea that Priscilla, my daughter in law, would get pregnant and have the baby while we were away. Thank goodness for e-mail and instant messenger!

I'll never forget that day one year ago; my ex-mother-in-law Jeanette e-mailed me and said, "You're a grandmother!" I was already a grandmother because I consider Jenn and Amy, Priscilla's children from her first marriage, as my grandchildren too. And then there's Victoria, my granddaughter on Jerry's side. But Rhia's my first genetically connected grandchild, so she's the first in that sense. But it shouldn't matter--kids are kids.

On so many levels, I love this pic, mostly for the obvious reason that she is cute and my grandchild, but also that this picture captures her at a time in her life when she hasn't been beaten down by the the little irritations that make us grow old and, sometimes, cynical. And look at her joy in eating her birthday cake; there's no concern about counting calories or incorporating hara hachi bu. She just dives in and smooshes it all over her face. And she stops eating when she's done, no matter how tasty that cake and ice cream might be. I hope that she never has to think consciously about natural eating.

Although Rhia's grandma ate pizza and cake tonight, she did so with that critical eye that suggests she (ME!) has much work to do yet regarding non-dieting and "natural" eating. It still feels artificial to me--it is artificial right now; I suspect natural eating will never totally feel natural to me, and I don't get any do overs. : = (

I really missed being present for Rhia's birth--I had to settle for pictures flying through cyberspace and across the Atlantic Ocean.

But I got to see her today, and I enjoyed every minute, playing with her.


Jennifer Semple Siegel ; = )

Instant Messenger: From America to Macedonia

Eric Nicholas Brown and Jennifer Semple Siegel

(With love: to Rhia Alden Brown, b. December 3, 2004)

Son: Are you still awake?

Mother: Yes.

Son: Wow, it’s late there.

Son: We’re home from the hospital.

Mother: Can’t sleep.

Mother: I figured you were still at the hospital.

Son: We got back about a half hour ago.

Mother: How is Rhia adjusting to being in this world?

Son: Just fine...She’s still asleep in her car seat.

Son: She’s making faces, so she must be kind of awake.

Mother: Maybe you’ll luck out and have a baby who sleeps through the night.

Son: Maybe. She’s very laid back and happy.

Mother: The pics are absolutely adorable.

Mother: She looks like you at that age. Do you think she’s going to have brown eyes?

Son: I was tired when I did them–she weighed 8.6, as the scale showed, not 8.4 as I wrote in the e-mail.

Son: I don’t know if her eyes will be brown.

Son: Hard to tell yet.

Mother: They look brown already.

Son: They are gray right now.

Mother: But that might be the lighting.

Mother: I just want to hug her.

Mother: She’s kind of roly-poly–comes by it honestly. Hehehehe.

Mother: I’m looking at her pic now–ran some off the computer. I just want to reach and pull her out.

Son: Yes...she is cute, although she’s pooping as we speak.

Mother: Hehehehe. Babies do that.

Son: PJ says she’s making a present for Daddy.

Mother: Oh, Boy! Just being a daddy’s girl.

Son: Hehehe.

Mother: Has your dad seen her yet?

Son: Oh, yes. We had to pry her out of his hands...

Mother: Hardy, har, har! Told ya!

Son: He came to the hospital last night...with Grandma and Grandpa.

Mother: I figured that there would be a trail of relatives–Beam me across the ocean, Scotty!

Son: Hehe.


Mother: How is PJ holding up?

Mother: After all, she did all the hard work.

Mother: Though she looked pretty lively in later pics.

Son: She’s doing well.

Mother: Good–while we’re all going goo-goo eyed over sweet Rhia, we don’t want to forget who did all the hard work.

Mother: Way to go, PJ!

Son: No pain medication for the birth process.

Son: She’s a tough girl.

Mother: I’m impressed! I asked for every pain medication on the market. Coward, I!

[Long pause]

Son: Sorry, we changed her diaper; now PJ is feeding her.

Mother: She wasn’t in a hurry to greet this world, but it sounds as though she has embraced it fully.

Son: She poops, and then decides she’s starving, so she’s upset during the diaper change cause she wants to eat.

Mother: Good sign.

Mother: A robust, baby girl and a healthy appetite.


Mother: I’ll bet Amy and Jenn are excited–they sure looked happy in the pics.

Son: Yes, we stopped by their grandma’s house on the way home so that they could see her again.

Mother: The thing about babies–they seem to come with a lot of promise and potential. You and PJ will help her realize that. I have great faith in your abilities there.

Son: Thanks!

Son: She’s peacefully eating now.

Mother: I can almost visualize that tableau. Sigh.................

Mother: Your grandmother was describing how thrilled you are, and what Rhia means to you. I’m glad that PJ’s ex-mother-in-law is so understanding.

Son: Yes, she is wonderful :-)

Mother: That’s SO cool. It could have been otherwise.

Son: One look at her, and I was hooked.

Mother: Yes, I can see that–I think, though, that you were hooked the minute you found out you were going to be a daddy.

Mother: And you didn’t pass out at the birth....

Son: No, it was quite an experience.

Mother: Wow–back in the states, I’d watch those maternity ward shows on Lifetime–and it was something else.

Son: PJ and the doctor said I was good while she was in labor.

Mother: I can see that.

Mother: I was definitely there in spirit–I thought about you all day, even though we spent half the day chasing after our [residence] visa. Grrrrr.

Son: Rhia doesn’t seem to like eating for a long period of time...just a little bit at a time.

Son: Now she’s eating again.

Mother: That’s normal–You’d drink one or two ounces, and then you’d stop, only to be hungry again in an hour or two–

Mother: –Babies need to contemplate–drink in the world. Everything’s so new and bright after the wet, warm darkness of the womb.

Son: Yes, I suppose so.

Mother: The sensory experience for newborns must be absolutely overwhelming.

Son: Yes, that one picture was really when she opened her eyes for the first time.

Son: She looked like she was trying to open her eyes, then she opened them.

Mother: Wow, I can only imagine how that must have been for her...

Mother: One of the pics I printed out was that first one with her eyes open.


Mother: I’m going to be an obnoxious grandma–everyone who comes through these doors MUST look at her pics.

Mother: I wanted to post a birth announcement on the door, but Jerry wouldn’t let me. I even printed her name in Cyrillic.

Mother: I’ll e-mail you her name in Cyrillic–it’s pretty.

Son: Okay.

Son: She is a cutie, though–

Mother: What is her voice like?

Son: –Like all the women in my house. How lucky am I?


Son: She makes a lot of little sounds, some of which sound like words–

Mother: All those wild women–hehehehe–

Mother: OOOOhhh, a smartie; she’ll be reading by next week.

Son: Maybe!

Son: :-)

Mother: We’ll have to send her to college at six months.

Mother: But she won’t be allowed to drive until her feet can reach the pedals.

Son: She needs something to do whilst soiling her diaper–reading will work nicely.

Mother: Again? Super-pooper?

Son: She is related to us, after all.

Mother: Hehehehe.

Son: No, not now–

Son: –still eating.

Mother: She could be related to Jerry–ha.

Mother: PhD by age three...

Son: I’d better go, but we’ll have to chat soon.

Mother: Okay, I’m getting tired.

Son: Sleep tight.

Son: Bye!

Mother: Priedno!

Mother: Bye!

Friday, December 02, 2005

"Sirens" (a short story)

Becca Prospero heard voices.

"Can you imagine, all that fat?" Becca’s mother.

"I just can’t fathom it..." Her aunt.

Two sniping sirens.

Becca kept her eyes closed and listened.

"Now her real work begins," Becca’s aunt said.

"Tsk, tsk. I’m not sure she’s up to it."

Thanks, Mom. Thanks for your confidence...

"I just don’t get how such a young woman could let herself go..."

Another voice. Dr. Bonita. "Don’t be so harsh..."

* * * * *

The fat had crept up slowly. No doubt she over ate, but it was like her appetite had kicked in on overdrive, and she felt helpless against the myriad food cues and smells: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Bob Evans, IHOP–the list went on. And she had answered their siren calls, sometimes three and four times a day.

Eventually, she was fired from her sales job, which required extensive travel; she could no longer fit into an airline seat.

"I’m sorry, Becca," Ms. Atropos, her boss and third sniping siren, had said. "We can’t afford to pay double for your travel."

Becca knew the real reason: although her sales outpaced everyone else’s, she didn’t fit the corporate image.

She consulted a lawyer, who said that overweight people had little legal recourse.

It didn’t matter anyway; she could no longer navigate herself and luggage through airports and security--a total nightmare, especially that last time, shortly after 9/11, when she was ordered to strip for a complete body search: strange women lifting and prodding her fat rolls. She was sure their interest was less about finding bombs and more about prurient curiosity and poking fun; the guards’ averted eyes revealed what would happen once she departed.

One year later, on a crisp, autumn day--brilliant blue sky and crimson leaves--Becca almost moved in with her mother and aunt. They carried her meager possessions into her childhood bedroom, now outfitted with a bed made of reinforced steel, guaranteed to hold 1,000 pounds.
Becca, only 37 and now using a cane, struggled up the sidewalk; the wind whipped around, red and yellow leaves swirling, a mini-twister surrounding her. She couldn’t walk more than 25 feet without stopping to catch her breath.

No one helped her.

She sweated profusely, snowflakes sizzling on her face.

When Becca finally stepped through the doorway, widened for her girth, she plopped into the nearest chair, which collapsed under her, breaking into pieces. Falling to the floor, she twisted her left arm, pain shooting through her like a bullet.

An ambulance was called; as the siren drew near, she blacked out...

...Light as a snowflake, Becca sees a light on the white hill and follows it, glistening snow marred only by the swirling leaves encircling her, autumn slipping into winter--though autumn will not disappear without a struggle.

Becca drifts in front of a snow-covered gravestone...

She can’t dwell on the ensuing tempest--only moments to decipher the etchings on the gravestone, she envisions a name she knows too well...

..."Her heart stopped," a distant voice said. "We almost lost her."

Becca was in the hospital for a month with a torn arm muscle surrounded by inflamed fat, which, her specialist explained, would most likely die off and need to be removed. While convalescing, she vowed to do something, anything, to help herself, but, most importantly, get away from her mother and aunt--

--To reclaim life on her own terms.

Her family doctor arranged for admittance to a clinic in Ohio for the morbidly obese. On arrival, she weighed 712 pounds.

"I don’t want weight-loss surgery," Becca said to Dr. Miranda Bonita, an obesity specialist.

"No need. We have safer treatments," the doctor said.

Dr. Sebastian, Becca’s psychotherapist, tried to convince her that her obesity probably had a genetic component and wasn’t her fault.

"People in third-world countries aren’t obese," Becca said.

"True," Dr. Sebastian said. "Though if they had a steady supply of food, you’d see obesity in those places, too. I honestly believe your metabolism’s out of whack; that would explain your excessive weight gain."

Becca knew better; she remembered the binges. Average day’s gorge: a pound of bacon; six eggs, fried in bacon grease; eight slices of toast; pancakes slathered with butter and syrup; home fries; three greasy Big Macs, each with super-sized fries; two pounds of ribs; a pound of fried shrimp; a gallon of Chubby Hubby ice cream; and a bucket of popcorn saturated with a stick of butter.

She took full responsibility for her weight, and eventually forgave herself.

In her first year at the clinic, Becca lost, through diet, mild exercise, and psychotherapy, more than 300 pounds. She now weighed 384 and could walk, without becoming winded, up and down the hall, sometimes without her cane. She became an ambassador, a cheerful one-person welcoming committee for new residents, who loved her. They elected her president of the Residents’ Board.

As she grew thinner, though, the flesh on her injured arm ballooned. Instead of dying off as predicted, the inflamed flesh healed and, for unknown reasons, swelled, doubling in size. The flesh from her forearm hung down, covering her fingers with a flap of skin.
Dr. Bonita recommended a risky surgery to remove about 15 pounds from that arm.

* * * * *
"We talked about this," Dr. Bonita said to Mrs. Prospero. "Becca’s problem is most likely not her fault."

She explained, for the umpteenth time, how little science understood about metabolism and its effects on body weight, that, yes, Becca may have triggered an existing genetic condition by overeating, but perhaps she over ate because of a faulty appestat.

"No one knows, so why not offer her the benefit of the doubt?"

Becca opened her eyes, her left arm wrapped in bandages.

Her mother was shaking her head.

You’ll see!

Becca Prospero’s guilt and anguish were over, even if she never lost another ounce.

Sirens howled in the background.


Copyright, Jennifer Semple Siegel (October 22, 2005)

Hara hachi bu again and thoughts on discrimination

I first heard about hara hachi bu on NPR (last month), and something about it just clicked and resonated with me. So I bought the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. I have been sampling this volume (obviously a coffee table book, but one I'm actually reading!). In Okinawa, people (especially older people) practice hara hachi bu daily, which means they stop eating when they're 80% full. They had been taught from childhood to practice this at every meal, and it's so rooted in their culture that to overeat seems almost taboo. Of course, we don't have these kinds of social restrictions, so I'm not surprised that such a concept is not easy to practice in Western cultures, where food cues are the norm (for example, the chocolate in the break room). We, of course, can't change our culture (at least overnight), but we can try to work on how we respond to it. I agree with Linda Moran, administrator at Dietsurvivors, that if chocolate and other goodies are important, then by all means incorporate your faves into your eating. Deprivation is the bane of all diets, but I think there's a huge difference between deprivation and making informed choices about what to eat and how much to eat.

Easier said than done, which is why striking a balance between "dieting" (at least in the classic sense of the word, which = deprivation) and learning permanent (hopefully) ways of fulfilling our need to eat on both physical and psychological levels, while at the same taking care of our bodies, is so difficult. And this is a very personal matter, based on physiological and psychological needs.

I AM discovering that, for me, "legalizing" all the foods I love has stripped the power they have had over me; I thought for sure I'd go over the cliff every single day, run to Dairy Queen two-three times a week for a Moolatte. But it hasn't happened. I LOVE Moolattes, but, evidently, not enough to work them in regularly, even though I KNOW I could jump into my car and get one right now.

I sincerely believe that our culture of abundance has negatively impacted several generations of Americans; my boomer generation started feeling the side effects in earnest, especially as they started aging (I was a chubby child, so I have felt this nearly all my life). Our bodies are out of whack, our sugar levels running wild--when I was growing up, diabetes was rare, type II almost unheard of.

The diet industry is getting fat with wealth, and we are staying fat despite all their promises and claims. Never mind the mixed message we are bombarded with: today, I had lunch at a strip-mall Chinese restaurant; next door is a Curves; next to that is a Steak place, and next to that is Weight Watchers; and next door is a sub place. A symbolic (and real) commentary on the state of our mixed-up food culture.

Finally, the U.S. is waking up to the issue, but, then, they want to point the blame at the very people who are struggling, a "blame the victim" mentality. The message: "Get off your fat asses and do something about it."

Yeah, right.

Try telling a cancer patient to "Get off your diseased ass and do something about it." The overweight are methodically and purposely targeted for heinous acts of discrimination, covert and overt. Did anyone happen to catch last week, on ET, the skinny woman who donned a fat suit and went undercover and recorded people's reactions to her "350 lb. body"? She was shocked at how people treated and reacted to her, and not only behind her back. Well, duh. She's just discovering what we have known all along. The way people treated her made her cry, but, at the end of the day, she could remove her fat suit and move on as a thin person. Still, I appreciate her efforts because at least she's TRYING to walk in our shoes and expose these "hateful" reactions to the overweight.

Our culture needs to change the way it feels about us, and if that means federal legislation prohibiting discrimination against the overweight, then it should be done. In Pennsylvania (where I live), an employer can fire an overweight person just for that reason, and that stinks.

Back in the late 80's, I thought our country was headed in the right direction regarding the treatment of the overweight, but we have backlashed, even as our population grows heavier. One airline (which will remain unnamed because I don't want to risk giving them publicity) actually charges some overweight people double fares.

I'm getting tired of Jay Leno's jokes about the overweight--they are NOT funny at all, just like the Steppin' Fetchin' black stereotypes weren't funny back in the 30's, 40's, and 50's. I would say this to Mr. Leno's face: fire your writers and find some REAL jokes. Poking fun at people who struggle daily is cruel and reveals more negativity about YOU (Leno) than it does about your intended target.

To wrap up: we experience many of our problems because of the way we are NOT accepted by our culture, and it does matter if we have to keep "apologizing" (albeit in subtle ways) for our size. If we could move about freely, without fear of being poked fun at (once, about 10 years ago, some kids at the mall shot rubber bands at me) or discriminated against, I sincerely believe it would be easier to move on and really do the important work of caring for our bodies and NOT feel in a rush to lose weight fast--I think that, more than anything, our shame drives us to these crazy diet programs and bariatric surgeries (which may be medically necessary for some people).

Perhaps if we were more relaxed in our own skins, we could just move on, and groups like dietsurvivors would become obsolete.

I guess I have rambled, but, somehow, writing about this stuff helps me, and maybe something I say will help someone else.

I'm not doing this for the money (despite the ads); I made .03 cents last month! (Woo! Hoo!).

Jennifer Semple Siegel

NOTE: I posted a version of the above on Dietsurvivors.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"Daddy's Little Girl" and "A Pet's Love"


I love when my students surprise me.

This week, we are reading Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes poetry. I'm of the literary school that believes readers learn to understand literature better when they imitate styles of the "greats."

The work seems to become more real to them.

Most of the time, the derivative work is pretty ordinary, but that's okay. Learning through imitation is a powerful tool, not necessarily a creative writing exercise.

Occasionally, my students go beyond the exercise as an excercise and come up with work that, with some revision, could actually stand on its own.

In "A Pet's Love," the student poets have actually incorporated Ted Hughes' fused sentences, which he used for artistic purposes.

I just want my students to know that I'm so proud of them--I realize that LIT160 is an elective course, and they could just blow it off. But most of them are hanging in there. I hope they have had a little fun along the way!

Here are the poems (centered):

* * * * *

"Daddy's Little Girl" (Response to Sylvia Plath's "Daddy")

I gave you all I could
with all the time I had
if you hold onto your anger
your anger will consume
engulf, and inflame everything
you do.

let go of the past
live for tomorrow
let go of your grieving
let go of your sorrow

the men you meet will not be me,
treating them as such will
make them flee,
your life will not be worth living
if you cannot start forgiving.

Group 1: Ben Clark, Christine Deluca, Jesse Fisher, Amanda Dinmore, Jen Corvino
* * * * *

"A Pet's Love" (Response to Ted Hughes "The Lovepet")

Was it an insect was it a tick?
He flicked it. She screamed at it.
He made his voice like nails on a chalkboard.
She brought it out with terror in her eyes.
Soon it was sucking their blood.

She gave it the flesh of her neck which was bare
He gave it the force which drew more blood.

It began to grow fat but what could they do?
They gave it their house it bolted their driveway.
They gave it their attention it gobbled their strength
Even while they slept.

It ate their skin and the bone beneath
It found mice under the floor it latched onto them
They gave it hearty food and nutritious snacks.
It chewed holes in their souls.

It fell off but they cried for it to
reattach itself
It ran through their blood and sucked it dry
It bit at their numb bodies they did not resist
It sucked once again without them knowing

It burst into pieces they could not move
The pieces fell to the ground they
could not see.
Group 3: Meghan Zavorski, Caitlyn Kane, Ashling Kaim, Emily Altieri, and Laura Hulsaver

Dietsurvivors, hara hachi bu, lifelong habits

To my Dietsurvivor friends:

I don't know if this helps, but, for the last month or so, I've been trying to incorporate hara hachi bu (80% full) into my life. At first, it was a little difficult because I have always been taught that any kind of hunger was "bad," even when I was on a diet. All the diet plans seem to have a list of "survival" foods on them--the whole idea, it seems, is to NEVER feel a pang of hunger. I'm slowly coming to realize that this belief is wrong, that REAL hunger is a signal to our bodies that it's time to be fed. How can we know and recognize this signal if we're always full?

Having said this, I still feel a little fear, when that hunger pang, even when legitimate, pops up. Just because I have had an epiphany about eating beliefs doesn't mean they're going to change my life overnight.

However, something interesting is beginning to happen: I'm not having to wait 20-30 minutes to feel satisfied on the same amount food that, a month ago, left me still wanting. Sometimes, maybe we have to endure a training period to achieve a specific goal and behavior change. I know, this might sound just like another diet, but, to me, this feels different because instead of focusing on weight loss as a final goal, I'm focusing on changing the way I eat and how I relate to food: for life. I never got that concept before. Thus, this is not just a physical change, but, also, a head change.

On a daily basis, I'm allowing myself to eat the foods I crave, with the intention of listening very carefully to my body. On Thanksgiving, I enjoyed the foods I love: mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, apple pie, etc. I even ate past hara hachi bu, perhaps stopping at 95% full. And the next day, at another family event, I ate more comfort food, again 95% full. I wrote everything down in my food journal (I have made a commitment to myself to record, for one year, what I eat, no matter how much). Eventually, I actually felt too full (though my calorie count was only slightly past "maintenance").

In the past, I would have punished myself by starving for the next two or three days to "make up" for the extra calories, but this time, I just picked up normal eating. I discovered that my own body, through its satiety signals, told me to eat a little less, an amazing experience for me. I never thought it possible to work with my appetite control--I had always assumed it was past saving.

I don't know if I gained weight over Thanksgiving, though I'm sure I had a temporary upward spike; I have made a commitment to reserve weigh-ins for the doctor's office. Instead, my clothes tell me how I'm doing, and they indicate that I'm losing weight, albeit very slowly. Should I ever sense that something is wrong--that my clothes become tight when I know I'm eating normally--then I will weigh and/or visit my doctor.

I made the decision not to weigh because I tend to obsess over the numbers on the scale. Besides, if I continue what I'm doing now, the weight will come off--eventually and naturally. That's another change: I'm not in any particular hurry to lose my extra pounds. I'm more interested in achieving lifelong habits, and the only way to do that is to embark on a program that is satisfying in the "now" and the "forever"--no more "this-is-temporary-and-as-soon-as-I-achieve-my-goal-weight-I'll-go-back-to-my-old-eating-habits."

Have I achieved perfection? Of course not, BUT I'm no longer going to beat myself up when I eat past 80% full, and I'm going to extol what's positive about my body, instead of focusing on the fat and other physical "faults."

Terri and Becky and everyone, if you seek, you'll find what you need; my way might not be yours.

Linda Moran, our administrator, is wise beyond her obviously young years when she says to take what you need and leave the rest.

(I posted this message on the Dietsurvivors' message board.)

Jennifer Semple Siegel

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Self Portrait--Ugh!

I have this thing about photographs of myself--I hate them!

But, recently, our college newsletter requested one from me (or was going to use an awful file photograph) and gave me a deadline of November 26. Monday morning I shot out of bed--I had totally forgotten about the photograph.

What to do? My husband had already left for campus, so I was alone.


Then I remembered a childhood trick: the self portrait. We'd sneak a cheap Brownie out of the house and take pictures of ourselves. They were awful, of course, and we had no way of checking our results until we picked up the prints from the drug store, but we had a blast.

So I thought, I can do this!

A snap with the digital camera.

With grim determination--no joy here--I set about taking my picture. My attempts were awful; I looked tightlipped, saggy, pale, and stiff.

Not happy.

Then I decided to take my show outside, where the natural light might give me a fighting chance at looking somewhat normal.

Finally, lucky shot #13, and...


Mind you, I'm no great beauty--never have been, never will be--but I'm happy with the resulting photograph. Besides, physical beauty is vastly overrated, but that's another issue for another entry.

Here I am, bright red hair and all!


Jennifer Semple Siegel

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Dear Dietsurvivors and Me

I just e-mailed a new dietsurvivor member, who is having a difficult time trying to decide between two diet programs (or no diet program at all), and, as a member wanting to help, I answered her to help her decide the answer for herself.

As I wrote, I realized that I was writing for myself as well as others; so I decided to post my e-mail to her here:

* * * * *

Hello, ___________,


I'm fairly new, too, to this group. I think that the most important thing in the world is NOT to beat yourself up if you gain a few pounds while you sort things out for yourself. It takes time, and many of us here are still working things out for ourselves. Count the small victories, and rejoice in them.

For two days (Thanksgiving and Friday), I ate more than I usually do (or at least I have been eating in the past four months), and I'm quite okay with it. The important thing (for me, anyway), I didn't stuff myself, but I enjoyed pie, cake, Mike's Hard Lime (a fave), mashed potatoes, among other so-called forbidden food. I did NOT go "out of control," my worst fear, and, today, I feel just fine and have picked up eating normally. I refuse to "cut back" to "make up" for two days of heavier eating, even though I might gain some weight. But I won't know "the numbers" because I have given up the scale. Instead, I go by what my clothes tell me, and they don't lie. Leaving the scale behind has freed me tremendously, and I only know "the number" when I go to the doctor's office.

All I'm trying to say: we all find our way to cope, and, for me, the scale is an impediment to my psychological health because the numbers get in the way, and I obsess over them. Am I tempted to weigh? Of course. Every day.

I'm not a thin person, though I have decided to ACT like one, and the consequence of that role playing? At this point, I'm not sure. In any case, I FEEL better, both physically and psychologically. Will I ever slip? Probably. But I'm not going to allow my slips to turn into year-long downward spirals into overeating and bingeing.

You WILL find what works for you--just listen to what your body really needs and, yes, wants. Most diets are so grim, focusing on the shall-nots instead of the shalls, and if you feel you must embrace WW and/or OA, then take what YOU need and want from them, and leave the rest behind--it's your body. And if you "slip" off your own plan and violate your own intentions, try not be so hard on yourself. It's not a moral failing.

You (and anyone else) are welcome to visit my blog.

I'm not selling anything, just keeping a log of my journey. I plan to post this note on my blog, just to remind myself of my own words when I'm feeling down and out.



* * * * *
And that's it for now.
Jennifer Semple Siegel

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

On Writing, Risk, Books, and Thanksgiving...

Today, I posted the following on forum, a favorite spot for sorting out my writing issues:

Years ago, the writer Maxine Hong Kingston lost an entire manuscript in those California wildfires that wiped out thousands of homes, and she had no backup
copy. Understandably, she sunk into a deep depression, but managed to write a
different book in which she explored the loss of several years work. At the 2003
NCTE meeting in San Francisco, she spoke very poignantly about this traumatic
event. The minute I returned home, I decided to protect my work, even at the
possibility of risking spider bots crawling my work.

Life IS about taking risks; diet programs attempt to erase all risk from their clients' lives. Non-dieting involves taking risks, and that's a positive thing, for how else can we discover what works for us? I ordered Linda Moran's book How to Survive Your Diet and Conquer Your Food Issues Forever, and some other non-dieting books--I firmly believe in educating myself as much as possible. I like Linda Moran's online group (dietsurvivors); it's simple to navigate, and she responds to the messages, even the ones not directed to her. Where does she find the time? I also ordered Teacher Man (Frank McCourt) and Hungry Planet (Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio), not a book directly about diet as weight loss, but diet as how people around the world eat. I heard about the book on NPR and knew instantly that I needed it.

Anyway, tomorrow is Turkey Day, and I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. In the past, this has always been a red flag day, just another food trap to navigate. This year will be different; I'm going to take Linda Moran's advice and enjoy small portions of the foods I really like. I think I can do it; I survived two conferences pretty well: I ate steak, crab cakes, turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy, rolls, and sweets. But I drew a line and ate limited amounts and, surprisingly, I felt satisfied. Not "buffet" stuffed--an awful feeling, by the way.

I learned something important; at one meal, I thought I had done fairly well, but 30 minutes later, I realized I had, in fact, overeaten.

Trial and error: that's how we learn.

I have discovered a simple way of determining true hunger and "mouth" hunger: with true hunger, no matter how much you try to forget about it, it sticks with you until you nourish your body. Mouth hunger, on the other hand, can be short circuited by engaging in another activity. Sometimes, though, mouth hunger has to be nourished as well--naturally thin people do engage in feeding mouth hunger, but they do so without guilt and guile.

Back to Thanksgiving. Last year, I was living in Skopje, Macedonia, and there was not a turkey to be had at any cost. So I bought two oven-spit chickens, noodles, cabbage, carrots, chocolate truffles--foods easily found in Macedonia--and invited some Macedonian friends over for Thanksgiving dinner. They loved celebrating an American holiday, and I loved explaining the meaning of the holiday (including the tradition of gorging and watching American Football). This year, we're going to my brother-in-law's for the traditional feast, which will be nice, too. Mark and Missy Siegel are thin people who diet from time to time, but they don't make a big deal out of it.

I love them for that!

Have a great day!

Jennifer Semple Siegel

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Are You Thin Yet?"

The refrain heard by almost every overweight kid, past, present, and future:

"Are you thin yet?"

My entire childhood revolved around "becoming" thin, a state of body reached only for short spurts, before "becoming" fat again. It seemed I was in a constant state of weight--yes, the play on words is intentional. My entire childhood was about weight and wait. Hell, most of my adulthood.

Back in August, an epiphany, perhaps a re-epiphany. Perhaps this time it will take root.

I just joined a Yahoo Health group called dietsurvivors: Non-dieting for intellectuals. Looks fantastic, and, so far, everyone has been very friendly and supportive. Link:

Linda Moran, the owner of the group, has posted "How Children Eat," an excerpt from her book How to Survive Your Diet and Conquer Your Food Issues Forever in which she discusses how normal vs. overweight children relate to food.

What an eye opener!

I was the kid who hid sunflower seeds underneath the mattress and Twin Bings and peanut butter cups in my underwear drawer, while my skinny friends and cousins ate freely and openly. I don't remember the first time food became taboo--it just always was.

One late night, in early 1991, I couldn't sleep--something was on my mind, but I didn't know what. So I dragged myself out of bed and started to write.

By dawn, the following had poured from my pen:

* * * * *

"Are you thin yet?"

Those words, arriving one day--cloaked in a birthday card and sizable check from a great aunt in California--will remain forever grooved in my mind.

So will the words that followed: "I hope so because, if not, you'll have to spend your birthday money on fat clothes, and we know how ugly they are. And you have such a pretty face."

Happy thirteenth birthday.

I'll never forget the pain from that cruel and cutting message, perceiving, somehow, that love and acceptance were doled out according to how close I could get to my ideal body weight, that fat was a sacrilege, a dirty family secret to be eradicated like a communicable disease, even if it meant sacrificing a little girl's self-esteem.

At thirteen, I was a shell-shocked veteran of the diet wars, having already embarked on reducing regimens, ranging from the downright fad diets ("eat sugar and lettuce for every meal for one week") to the downright dangerous (amphetamines prescribed by my family doctor who himself weighed in at a whopping 300 pounds).

So I was an expert in attack strategies required for tackling those extra pounds, having begun several years before the vicious cycle of food deprivation, weight loss, bingeing, weight gain, guilt, more food deprivation, more weight loss, more bingeing, more weight gain, more guilt, a cycle that has stalked me throughout my adulthood.

I started picking up unwanted pounds when I was eight. At first, my family teased me about being "pleasingly plump" and "a whole lot to love." Yet, as I look back on old pictures, I wasn't overly obese; perhaps I was simply going through a stage where my height hadn't yet caught up with my weight.

I'll never know, however, because my family would not accept me as I was, and (with the best of intentions, I'm sure) started me on my diet merry-go-round.

First they tried "scare tactics": "If you eat those potato chips, we'll need a derrick to get you to school." Then it was "let's-hide-the-food-from-the-kid-and-maybe-she-won't-notice" approach.

I noticed all right and took steps to compensate by raiding my piggy bank and sneaking down to the corner grocery store for Reese's Peanut Butter cups; I could always depend upon my good friend chocolate to fill that empty spot in my stomach. Once, when I was home alone, desperate to fill that void with something warm and soothing and yet too frightened of fire to light the pilot light on the stove, I heated Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup in the electric percolator.

So by the time I had received the fateful birthday message, I was still not thin,
even though my family and doctor had tried just about everything, including
thyroid pills, even though my thyroid was (and still is) perfectly normal.

By now, the verdict from my family, peers, and media was obvious: I was not okay. I was fat; therefore, I was stupid, oafish, somehow sub-human, unfit to play with "normal" children. And they let me know about it, too, calling me "Fatso," "Heifer," "Fatty-fatty, two-by-four, couldn't-get-through-the bathroom-door."

I hated myself, and, even though I was raised in a staunch Catholic family, I once considered selling my soul to the devil "if only I could eat all the peanut butter cups in the world and still lose weight." Instead, with my immortal soul intact and my self-esteem shot to hell, I began, in earnest, my self-imposed cycle of food deprivation, etc.

By high school, I was still not thin, but my regimen now included days of total fasting, followed by sheer bouts of gluttony. I was completely out-of-control, and, except for periods of self-imposed exile into "Dietland," remained out-of-control on into adulthood.

In 1986, I embarked on my last regimented diet, a grueling journey through the Optifast Program, certainly the hair shirt, the sack cloth and ashes of all programs, The Ultimate Food Deprivation Diet, the Just Punishment for the Fat, my last crack at formal self-flagellation: for twelve weeks I ate no solid food, limited to drinking 70 calorie milk shakes six times a day. During that three months, I became totally obsessed with food; I counted the days when I could finally put one bite of poached chicken breast into my mouth; I had sexual dreams about food, bacchanalian banquets where the line between good taste and raunchy sex blurred; my senses sharpened, my eyes grew gaunt, my temperament developed a steely edge.

So was I thin yet?

Of course not, because the minute I stuck that first bite of real food into my mouth, I was fat again, no matter what the scale told me. In a matter of weeks, I was fat again, simply reinforcing what my head had known for years.

I finally gave into my old enemy food, eating whatever I wanted, feeling guilty after every bite and every binge, hating myself more and more. I was mired in a four year feeding frenzy.

August, 1990: I found myself facing 40--and still not thin yet. For the first time in my life, I actually considered suicide; however fleeting the thought might have been, the possibility was frightening enough to send me scurrying for professional help. I know this revelation will shock my loved ones, including my husband, but I have to tell my story like it is.

Two months later, after receiving some excellent psychotherapy in conjunction with a workshop on overcoming food obsession, I'm finally coming to terms with my
love/hate relationship with food. Most importantly, I'm discovering that I need to learn how to love and accept myself--no matter what my weight is and no matter what others (including my family) think about me--unconditionally and without reservation. I'm not quite there yet, but for the first time in my life, I feel hope, real hope.

Sometime in late September--I'm not exactly sure why or how--I made a decision to toss away all the diet baggage I've been carrying around for all these years. Now I ignore all the diet gurus and their snake oil remedies and have vowed to get on with the rest of my life.

Also, I have given myself unconditional permission to enjoy the foods I love, in whatever quantities I desire, and whenever I want--guilt-free. Moreover, I have called a moratorium on foods I never really liked in the first place but felt I had to eat because they were "thin" foods for "unthin" people.

In essence, I have thrown out all the old diet rules. After all, generally speaking, people who are naturally slender and have a positive self-image don't put themselves through a lifetime of agony over food. And, now, neither will I.

Am I thin yet? No, but, hey, I'm a heck of a lot happier now than at any other point in my life. Even at slightly under 200 pounds, I am able to look at myself in the mirror and see someone I could genuinely like--even love.

Will I ever be thin? I honestly don't know. I do know that ever since I have purged myself of useless guilt, I have not binged. I'm not sure what significance this has in the long term, but I now realize that my future success must be measured in the way I feel about myself, not by the scale or public consensus.

"Are You Thin Yet?," copyright 1993 Jennifer Semple Siegel, originally published in Eating Our Hearts Out: Personal Accounts of Women's Relationship to Food, edited by Leslea Newman, The Crossing Press (1993).

This small essay earned me a positive mention in a review on and a footnote in an academic study on (surprise!) girls and weight issues. But my own words didn't take root. They were the right words--they bounced from my lips, looping out into the void.

A few months later, I expanded the essay, published here for the first time:

* * * * *
Addendum: January 1992

My journey into self-acceptance is still an ongoing process: some days, I feel pretty good about myself, others, the old self-hatred comes through, especially when I still see so much prejudice leveled against overweight people. For example, I just recently found out that in Pennsylvania, there is no law protecting overweight people from job discrimination. Quite simply, a person can be cut out of the job market solely on the basis of weight. I felt so angry at that revelation, and yet, in many ways, I feel powerless to effect any change. Perhaps lawmakers believe that overweight people can diet, lose weight, and keep it off. But the fact is, only 5% of dieters keep their lost weight off for two years or more. Consequently, I'm going to have to wage my war via pen and paper, perhaps forcing those people fortunate enough to be blessed with the "thin privilege" to walk in my shoes for a short time.

Why haven't more overweight people spoken out? I can venture some guesses, based on my own experiences as an overweight person: As a general rule, these people

--possess low self-esteem

--tend to agree with public consensus that being overweight is not okay, that those who carry extra pounds are stupid somehow.

--tend to be ashamed to appear in public because of weight

Last semester, I had an opportunity to speak out against "weightism" (I believe that is the new term these days), and I blew it: I remained mute as a Clinical Psychologist, the instructor in my psychology course, went into a tirade about alcoholics, drug addicts, and overweight people not taking responsibility for their own actions. He then said, "Take overweight people, for example: to lose weight, all they have to do is close their mouths. It's so simple." I could feel myself choking on my anger; the words were there, but they were piling upon one another, stuck on my tongue. After all, I was sitting in a college course, not a therapy group. Also, my fellow students, for the most part, were 19 and 20 year olds, probably one of the most unsympathetic segments in society toward anyone who is different. And believe me, many overweight people go to great lengths not to call unwanted attention to themselves.

So what would I say to Dr. Arrogance now that I'm in front of the keyboard, fairly safe from the judging eyes of post-adolescents?

First, I would tell him that if weight reduction were such a simple process, there would be very few overweight people in the world--that sometimes people feel that the price of being thin is not worth the energy, the deprivation, and the pain. Sometimes, the choice is conscious, sometimes unconscious. Nonetheless, it's an option that should be accepted and respected--not severely judged by others who have little knowledge of the implications of being overweight.

Second, I would let him know that being overweight is not a sign of inner weakness, for many overweight people go on to lead successful lives.

Third, I would tell him that his standard of what is normal is out of whack--that I'm as normal as anyone else, except that I carry extra weight. Big deal. That I desire the same things he desires: love, success, esteem, self-actualization. That I care for my body and appearance, try to eat healthy foods, and take time out for recreation and leisure. And I hurt when other people view me as something as subhuman because of what I weigh, just as Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities hurt when people judge them solely on the color of their skin.

Fourth, I would call into question his ability to do psychotherapy on overweight people who might seek help in trying to find out what makes them overeat. I doubt very much if he could offer them much insight because he has little understanding of the pain that many overweight people experience when they contemplate putting a piece of "forbidden food" into their mouths.

The last thing an overweight person needs is a misguided shot of shock therapy.
I can only try to explain the mechanics of what happens before, during, and after a binge, although mere words cannot begin to explain the torment a person feels when he/she is locked in a struggle with two opposing desires: to eat (= gaining weight) or not to eat (= losing or maintaining weight).

In my case, I feel any guilt associated with food the strongest when I'm supposed to be on a diet, at least consciously. However, when I'm not dieting, the guilt is still there, but I can stuff it away--with more food. Generally, during the morning and early afternoon, I seem to do okay. Late afternoons and early evenings are a different matter, and the subsequent urge to binge usually begins as a small, nagging nudge from the id, such as,

"I'm really in the mood for_______________."

At first, the thought is just that, one not to be taken too seriously--at least yet. Sometimes I can slough it off and go onto to other things in my life. Most of the time, I cannot. Then the thought begins to grow into an urge, and I begin to feel anxious. This is the warning bell that I'm about to overeat, and that I had better do something, perhaps examine something in my life or leave the house, because once the urge becomes an obsession, I cannot seem to stop it, for now, I'm beyond anxious: I'm terrified that if I don't eat, something awful will happen. On a conscious level, I know that my fears are irrational, but I'm helpless now, far beyond rational thinking. The fear just continues to grow until something "clicks" in my head, and another Jennifer, a ravenous alterego, stumbles into the kitchen and consumes whatever is there, with little regard for what it is. I usually choose soft, starchy foods, such as a mound of mashed potatoes, smothered in margarine--anything quickly consumable. I eat fast, cramming food down as fast as I can, until I'm so stuffed that I can barely move. It is then, only then, that the feeling of peace comes over me. I would compare the feeling to a marijuana high in that I get a feeling of floating and forgetfulness. The guilt comes later, the sense that what I have just done is an irrational, self-destructive act. Then the belief that I'm nothing but a weak-willed pig begins to play over and over in my head. Now the recriminations and self-hatred begin. I might even look at myself in the mirror, and scold my bloated image, "How could you do this to yourself?"

Thus, overeating becomes a moral issue as opposed to a biological one in which the result is added weight. Now I have begun a vicious cycle which may last for months.

The above is much easier (though still painful) to write about because I do not binge as much as I used to. Yes, I still carry the extra weight, but my self-concept has improved. Also, I have learned strategies which help me to head off binges before they get out of hand, such as indulging in the "I'm in the mood for______________" urge. If I'm satisfied with my choice, I have discovered that getting a nip of the "virus" actually helps to inoculate myself from the big time binges. There are numerous other strategies as well.

Still, one does not break long-standing habits overnight, so when people suggest simplistic solutions, I have this urge to reach up and squeeze their faces because they just don't have any clue what it is like to live my life. However, sooner or later, I'm faced with the fact that I can't change other people's attitudes, and that perhaps my best strategy is to change the way I feel about myself.

And, no, I am not thin yet.

* * * * *

From the distance of thirteen years, the addendum seems more honest than the published part, which is why I include it here.

I truly thought I had conquered this food thing, but I now know that complete success will probably prove to be somewhat elusive, that victories will be small, and occasional backsliding likely.

Day-to-day, I fear.

Today is the forty-second anniversary of JFK's assassination--a horrifying and sad day in history.

Jennifer Semple Siegel

Monday, November 21, 2005

Food for the Mind: Terrific Literature Class

An unexpected bonus today.

My Introduction to Literature class was a terrific surprise. My students are reading Sylvia Plath's Three Women, not an easy play/poem for college freshmen to digest. Plath's language is a bit dense and metaphorical, though the subject--birth, bleeding, and death--is very universal.

The students met in groups, and I circulated among the groups to get a sense of what they understood; I filled in any gaps that they might have had. Surprisingly, they already understood the complexities of the play/poem, although they complained about the difficulty of the piece. Plath's play/poem consists of three alternating female voices, dealing with different aspects of pregnancy. I asked two groups to write a poetic response from the perspective of the speaker's significant other.

After meeting with the groups, I took a few minutes and wrote a poetic response as well. (Sometimes, I like to to write along with my classes; after all, if I assign it, I should be willing to do it, too!)

After class, I e-mailed the class the following:


Thanks to everyone who was able to attend today's
class; I know it's difficult to concentrate before a holiday, but you all did a good job with Sylvia Plath's very difficult poem/play Three Women. I thought maybe you'd like to see the poems of Group 2, 4, and 6 (me!), which are from the perspective of the three voices' significant others.

Ms. Siegel


First Voice (Husband):

You can finally rest, my dear
We have a healthy baby boy
You can stop worrying
He has all ten fingers, and all
ten toes, and big beautiful blue eyes.
It was a rough start but
Through much pain and
determination our baby's life was saved.
He will grow to love us more and more each day.
He is perfect in every single way.

by Group #2

Second Voice (Husband):

I look at your red lips, and I know
how much I love you. The blue, autumn
sky is brisk and chilly, but I
do not see you as barren. Children
arrive in many flavors, and not all
children are fruits of the womb.
I see how you yearn for your own flesh,
but it is not flesh that determines
a parent. The sweet wine of a baby's
breath is the same in all babies,
and it matters not if our sons and
daughters push through your canal
or another's. It matters only that
we pick our children before they are ripe--
That way, they will be ours.
The sun pushes through the winter
clouds, and Forsythia blooms,

a blast of yellow petals.
Spring. Our children will be borne.

by Group #6 (Ms. Siegel)

Third Voice (Ex-boyfriend):

You kept me in the dark
She was part of me too
I could've helped you
together we could've been a family

You don't understand how guilty I feel
Never having known your pain or your sorrow
Imagine my shock when I found out why you left
How could you make such a big decision without me?
Did you feel I wouldn't understand?

How could it be so easy to give away our flesh & blood?
Now our daughter lays in the arms of strangers
We will never know her Who will she become?
I wonder who she looks like

Does she have my eyes?
Will she be a teacher, a doctor, a business woman?
These will be questions I will always ask myself
We should've talked about this
This wasn't only your decision
But obviously it's too late.

by Group #4

Have a great holiday!

Some teachers might view a survey course as a sort of "throwaway" elective, but I love teaching this class and take the job very seriously--I love these "aha" moments.

Isn't it funny, though, that I speak of knowledge as being "digested"?

Food for the soul, as well as the mind?

I'd love to hear from other teachers.

Jennifer Semple Siegel

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Artificial Thin Person

You've seen the ads in women's magazines:

"I have always felt like a thin person in a fat body?"

Oh, really?

If only we could chisel our bodies the way we want; whenever we gained weight, we could trot out our trusty tool and simply carve away the problem areas. Lipo, I suppose, offers this as a limited option.

Unfortunately, I would need to cut away about one-third of my body. Not an option.

I have never felt like a thin person, even when I was thin--I was always a fat person, on the verge of bursting out of a tight skin.

And I did burst out, albeit slowly and methodically. Gaining weight actually takes longer to accomplish than losing it; if you don't believe me, go back and figure out how long it took you to lose that 50 pounds. Six months? A year? Then count the years it took to pile it back on--in my case, two and even three years. Gaining just seems faster. The old yo-yo syndrome.

Now I'm about to embark on a marathon, to go into training as a thin person, never mind what the mirror says.

I'm doing this...why?

In about a year or two or three or four, I plan to be thin, at least thinner--if I can permanently incorporate hara hachi bu into my life, a lower body weight will be an inevitable offshoot. I'll never be bone-jutting thin, nor would I want to be. I could never find comfort in a body like that.
I'm taking it slow; if I follow hara hachi bu today, then that's a major victory, tomorrow, yet another victory. If I ever backslide, then that's life, and I'm not going to beat myself up over it, nor will I ever allow other people to dictate how I feel about my body.

So, as of today, November 17, 2005, I am an artificial thin person, in training for the real deal, fully recognizing that my run will not always follow a linear road, but sometimes a looping, often backtracking, foot-dragging shuffle.


Jennifer Semple Siegel