My mother used to say she wished there was a pill she could take instead of eating dinner.
Still, she and I would concoct elaborate desserts on special occasions. The banana boat was a personal favorite. We could never manage the recipe with the peel, so we sliced the bananas onto aluminum foil, sprinkled the fruit with chocolate chips, baked them until the chips would defer to our touch, and then broiled the whole mess with marshmallows carefully placed in just the right spots.
She taught me to always leave the oven door open and to watch while the whites turned brown, to remove them before they turned black. It all happened so fast; the second you turned your back on the broiler, that’s when it would all go up in smoke.
She told me that she would have an ounce of cheese and a bag of baby carrots for lunch, and that was plenty for her. Maybe it was.
I spent most of my youth exercising for hours a day, from 6 a.m. basketball practice to after-school ballet to sunset games of freeze tag with neighborhood kids. Breakfast was Kix or a Pop-Tart; lunch, a sandwich and dried fruit; but dinnertime was a sacred, formal affair. Friends would drop by with no notice, knowing they’d be treated to some sort of starch, protein and vegetable alongside a salad, with goblets of water for the kids, wine for the adults.
The kids set the table, and it was usually my father who did the cooking. We listened to classical music around the marble table, no television, just conversation, and in later years, fights that would have my father leaving the table to avoid a confrontation (a tendency I would adopt that would take years of therapy to break).
After the divorce, I escaped to boarding school for my first two years of high school. I’m sure there was an average number of disordered eaters amongst the 300 girls who attended the school, but I was too naïve to pay much attention to it and busied myself instead with the swim team, the softball team and the annual musical. I loved the drama of living on an all-girl campus and was heartbroken when family finances left me with no choice but to move home my junior year.
My mother and I took a cross-country road trip to move me away from a home I had created for myself into the house she bought after the divorce. I fell into a deep adolescent depression, ignored by my family until a friend called my mother to tell her I had been hurting myself. I began seeing the same therapist my father and brother were seeing. I was incredibly defensive of my mother any time he brought up anything that might paint her in a bad light, a response I have since learned is common for children with parents who are emotionally unavailable.
It wasn’t long after that when, in a moment of unbridled emotion, my mother told me that I was fat. Well, she screamed it at me: “You’re fat!” My brother witnessed the attack, and she forced him to agree with her: Yes, I had gained weight; no, I was not as physically active as I once was. I decided I could not trust their opinions about my body.
She required me to go to the gym. It’s bizarre to think of it now, but I would have been punished in some capacity for not spending an hour at the Y. I would drive there and sit in the parking lot for an hour, reading or listening to music, in case she drove by to see if my car was there. She was trying to help, but she couldn’t see the problem was deeper than fat.
Besides, I was 16, and I was not fat. My body was finding its way to its hourglass figure, the one I inherited from her mother, melding the curves I would grow to love. It would take another decade and a body that would go up and down 30 pounds before I would be comfortable with the fact that my body is, even at its smallest, larger than hers.
She buys me a new scale for every apartment I’ve had, the old one having mysteriously disappeared. Even today, we email each other our weights on a daily basis.
When, after a breakup, after I stopped eating and stopped getting my period, I found myself in bed with a man, and I was shocked at how small my breasts looked in his mouth. I started eating again, gaining back the pounds I had lost. My clothes fit again, my period started up like nothing had happened, and I felt sexy with my flesh, though I didn’t get nearly the amount of catcalls on my daily bike rides. I didn’t miss them.
When my mother asked me about the weight gain, I told her:
I am eating food. I stopped eating food and stopped having my period. Now I’m eating again and things are continuing as usual, right along with the seasons. This is the weight my body wants to be right now.
Our bodies are quite interesting in how they react to food. Sweetie, time for us both to head back down. Our bodies are asking us to do so.
My body isn’t really asking for that.
Through winter, spring, and now into summer, my body still has not asked me to lose weight, nor to gain weight. It asks for sustenance for the daily yoga practices and bike rides, for the ocean swims and foothill hikes. It asks for chocolate and kale salads, milkshakes and green smoothies, hamburgers and veggie burgers; sometimes it wants marshmallow melted onto fruit, and sometimes just an ice cold Pellegrino with a squeeze of lemon.
My body is at its best when it is strong and soft, when its earned muscles are coated in a sweet layer of earned fat, when it is used and touched and loved with the care of a child placing a marshmallow in just the right spot for the absolute perfect bite of sweetness.