Four-letter Words for Girls

Three cakes in four days. Australian meat pies. Barbecue chicken and creamy potato salad with crispy chives straight from the garden, washed down with glass after glass of special occasion wine. This is not the sort of stuff I should be eating.

Diet (the first four-letter word) is supposed to be a noun, a word for food intake. Instead, it’s most often an active word, a state of being — miserable if you ask me — a restrictive, self-hating period of deprivation. But because of a) the foregoing list of excessive calories consumed over the weekend of my daughter’s graduation, I may find it necessary to visit b) a restrictive diet.

Having recently read the blog post “How I Got Fat,” I reflected on a lifetime of unhappy food-related memories. I must have started dieting around age 12, when a cool girl moved into our small town and started talking about eating only fruit in the morning and nothing after 6pm. Of course all of us had to follow suit because we felt so stupid and unsophisticated if we weren’t similarly depriving ourselves. It launched at least two decades of yo-yo-ing between enjoyment and self-loathing, and was compounded by several relatives’ inability to make conversation without commenting on whether I appeared to have gained or lost weight. Thanks to those frequent reminders, it became an obsession.

according to this web site, .In 1965 Mattel came out with a “Slumber Party Barbie” that came complete with a bathroom scale permanently set at 110 pounds. The doll also came with a book entitled How to Lose Weight. And inside this book it gave the advice: “Don’t Eat”.

Along with enjoyment of food went enjoyment of physical activity (with the possible exception of dancing). No longer was “playing” acceptable, as it had to be calorie-burning as well. I calculated my intake and my calorie-burning daily, rationalizing crazy diets that I read about in Hollywood gossip magazines at the hair salon my mother visited. I started to run, first just a half-mile or so to the next street, then 1.5-mile loops, then more, but without celebrating any achievement greater than the 100-calorie per mile burn calculated for my size. Have you ever tried to run a couple miles after eating nothing but plain yogurt and dry tuna all day? It was punishment.

Then a few years ago a friend introduced the concept of the anti-diet. She called it fuel, and it turned my life upside-down. The word ripped “diet” out of my daily vocabulary and put it back into its appropriate, quiet, noun-like corner. I’m forever grateful for this four-letter word, and I use it as often as possible.

The concept of fuel for activity changed my outlook on physical exertion as well. No longer is it an obligation to get out and run or bike, it’s a pleasure. And while it’s particularly important over age 40 to keep food in its proper place, it’s particularly pleasurable to consume it with the knowledge that good choices affect good performance. Skip the carbs? You must be kidding. When I eat real food I always feel ready to jump on my bike or log a few miles.

If I could make one lasting impact in my life, I’d like to change women’s relationship with food in the same way mine was.Unfortunately, girls and women aren’t raised to be athletes or to view their bodies as worthy of self-love for being strong and capable. And despite the many years we’ve known body image and food issues to be a problem with girls, not much has changed. If you haven’t seen recent episodes of the tv show Glee, about high school kids, here’s a zinger: when the captain of the cheerleaders is being seduced by the class lothario, she gives in only when he repeats the three words she yearns to hear: “You’re not fat.”

During the week of my daughter’s graduation when the house was full of high-carb, high-fat celebratory food, we had a guest. This (unnamed) person immediately informed me that she’s on the South Beach Diet because Weight Watchers wasn’t working for her. She’d tried every diet under the sun. We shopped for “legal” foods to have on hand: string cheese, Atkins snack bars, plain nonfat yogurt. And I heard about her diet incessantly. But she rarely got up from her chair to use the fuel she consumed.

I’ve never been so happy to have gained this perspective and this distance from dieting. I couldn’t imagine doing it in my sunset years.

this mug from MEDAINC.ORG would have been the perfect conversation stopper when our houseguest started on "points" and "legal food"

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One Response to “Four-letter Words for Girls”

  1. Maureen Belt Says:

    nicely done, Alison. so true, too.l

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