Of course, being a dedicated eater, and a woman, I’ve always had to reckon with the risk of weight gain, to balance sensual indulgence with sensible moderation.
I was a skinny kid, a happy glutton who ran around outside for hours a day. That all changed when I left home for the first time. At 16, a homesick teenager, I glutted myself on homemade oily nutty granola with whole milk, whole-wheat toast thickly paved with cream cheese and strawberry jam, meatball subs on long, soft white rolls dripping with meat juice, entire big bags of Doritoes, and calzones, those soft bricks of dough encasing melted, oozing white cheese. And those were just my after-school snacks. (As meager compensation, I took to drinking Tab, the ubiquitous diet soda of the era, but of course it didn’t help.) Soon, not surprisingly, I was not fitting into my jeans anymore. Being 16, I squeezed myself in anyway and hoped for the best and looked marshmallow-like.
Back home again during the summers, the weight went away as I reverted to my family’s sensible habits of small portions and a lot of exercise. It wasn’t rocket science, I found out.
At 18, living in France during the year after high school, homesick again, I found plenty of solace in food. Frenchwomen may never get fat, but I haven’t got a drop of French blood that I know of. I was an au pair girl in the countryside in the Allier district; being around kids, especially 4 little boys who didn’t finish their food, it was very easy to overeat to keep from throwing out their leavings. Nursery food is both comforting and fattening, and French nursery food is irresistible: buttery scrambled eggs with brioche; tartines made of baguette and Nutella, that cracklike chocolate-hazelnut goo; 4 platefuls at a time of uneaten roast chicken with potatoes au gratin — I was the family dishwasher; instead of scraping it all into la poubelle, it seemed so much more responsible to eat it. Soon, I was husky again.
In college and graduate school, I didn’t eat much. During my late 20s and 30s, I stayed very thin, although had a few bouts with weight gain. These happened when I was depressed, playing a lot of computer word games (and by a lot, I mean obsessively: during my Boggle addiction, I saw many dawns; Scrabble, the next addiction, was more of a daytime thing, but whole blocks of hours went by without my budging), and feeling stuck in some way. New York City offers plenty of comforting food, on every street corner, in every deli, or – if you don’t want to leave the house, as I often didn’t – there’s always Freshdirect.
The year I turned 40, when I was training for the New York City marathon and running up to 21 miles a day, I paradoxically, unfairly started gaining a lot of weight. I felt like I had a 10-pound water balloon around my torso and hips. I ran the marathon wearing this water balloon. Of course, I was carbo-loading during training because I thought you were supposed to eat mounds of bread and pasta, along with soy sauce for sodium intake.
It turned out, I discovered a year later, thanks to a naturopath, that I was gluten intolerant, and one of the side effects of gluten allergy is bloat. It was, literally, a water balloon. I went off gluten completely, and it magically melted away. And that, I figured, was the end of my battle with weight gain.
Then I turned 47. This was almost 3 years ago. My mother, who is always a reliable guide to the mysteries of getting older, had warned me about this. That year, after a lifetime of having a flat stomach, about which I had always felt annoyingly smug, I got my comeuppance: suddenly I had a poofy belly and a little muffin top over the waistband of my tight jeans. It just happened, as if my body had been programmed for it. I hadn’t changed my eating or exercise habits.
As problems go, this is a minor one. But I had recently fallen in love with Brendan, who is almost 20 years younger than I am. If there was ever a time when I wanted to look as young and cute and trim as possible, it was now, goddamn it. But when I tried eating less and exercising more, I lost weight, but not the poof. It wouldn’t budge.
As my late 40s went on, I left New York and moved up to New England with Brendan. We are both passionate cooks and eaters. He is 6 feet tall and thin and just turned 30, and I am 5’ 7” and turn 50 in August: the math is simple. He can eat more than I can: I’ve finally figured it out.
But for a while there, until a couple of months ago, I pretended otherwise. It made it easier that Brendan would say, “But I love you like this, you look so much better now than when I first met you, you were so scrawny then. Eat, eat. I adore you.” What woman could resist that? Not me.
But this winter, I came back from a three-day trip to New Orleans and recognized that I had hit an all-time high of weight gain. It’s a number so alarming, I can’t even say here what it was, but trust me: it was cause for concern, as was my stomach, which was suddenly not adorably poofy, it was a gut.
Gradually, since then, I’ve begun to revert to my old lifelong habits, learned from my mother and Michael Pollan: Eat well. Not too much. And not too many carbohydrates. Thank God, I’ve been losing weight, and I’m starting to feel like myself again. But the roll is here to stay. I have almost managed to embrace it.
Weight Loss Lunch
In a big bowl, mix 2 cups fresh mesclun, 2 ribs chopped celery, 1 grated carrot, and 1 sheet of chopped nori (sushi seaweed). Toss lightly with a dressing of sesame oil and rice vinegar. Wave a log of goat cheese over it so a few crumbs tumble in. Savor them as you eat the entire salad. Follow with 3 big cups of nettle tea, which tastes like mulchy bogwater but has magical diuretic properties.
yes I have had all the problems you talk about. A former skinny stick I am now a medium log. Had to swear off bread and have found some great foods to stay thin on, however I have found if I don’t get a really healthy dose of protein at each meal, I have a serious nap need, morning and afternoon. if I start my breakfast off with porrage yogurt and fruit, I Have to go back to bed by 11, then a little salad for lunch. Eek and I have to sleep some more and totally carb-glut for the rest of the day. Not a good way to live.
Thanks for your writings
I read your books, I follow you on Facebook and now I’m addicted to your blog. I almost feel like I’m stalking you but I assure you I’m not. I’m just a person who’s interested – a fan.
After reading the new post, just three things I want to say (I’m sure that’s plenty).
1) I had to check out if Tab was still being made. It is.
2) Whenever you mention Brendan, I always think you’re saying Brandon – the name of my 28-year-old son – and I always do a double take. Brandon’s nice and I’m sure Brendan is too.
3) Hard for me to believe you’re going to be 50. From the photos I’ve seen of you, you look like a damn kid! Turning 50 was high drama for me – don’t let it be for you. You seem smart and probably already know this. I’m 58 now and finally don’t give a damn.
OK – done stalking now. I’ll leave you alone for a few weeks.
This post could be a PS to GONE! You’re saying exactly what she says about diet and weight gain and exercise. Her reading in NJ is tomorrow! I love your blog every time, even when I don’t comment!….Bette
Another beautiful post! I usually clear my e-mail box and leave your articles for the time I can kick back and enjoy thoroughly every written word. (The pink post was particularly evocative and very sensual:)
I was giggling all the time while I was reading, as so much of your experience rings true for me. I grew up in Europe and had no worries about the weight, even though I had a few bouts of sudden weight gain (when the boys found out I liked Eurocream, an Italian spread very similar to Nutella, I amassed quite a stash:)
47 was the blubber year for me, too:) No matter what I did, the paunch stayed. Year later, I exercise almost daily, ride my bike, and eat less than my 11yr-old girl, but it still it won’t budge. I live in a beach town in SoCal, and as my marriage has recently ended, I want my pretty tummy back!
Besides coming over to satisfy my love of beautifully written words, I can now visit to find support for these less cerebral, but not less important issues. I don’t consider vanity a sin:)
I loved your post. It rang so many truths for me…In my twenty’s I went on a binge to find the best bacon, egg, cheese on a roll in New York City. I don’t know how many I ate but it took me months of eating up and down the East and West sides of Manhattan to decide. I was an adorable stick.
Now….. I’m gluten free…. blah, blah, blah….Been fighting the same battle… be happy Brendan loves you the way you are!
Ironically, I’m trying to lose weight before moving to France in August to become an au pair. (Let’s see how that works out…) I’m currently living off of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and the occasional bit of cheese or eggs. I’ll definitely be trying the salad recipe!
My mother, French, always said never let the waste go to your waist. My father, British, remarked to me as I was lamenting my gut, brought on happily by micheladas, and good food, and tequila, and well…EXCESS… “At your age a six pack abdomen would be viewed as aggressive…”
Nettle tea, you may already know, has approximately one kajillion vitamins & minerals in it as well as being a diuretic. I mix mine with spearmint & alfalfa so it tastes better. If I had to drink straight nettles I’d never get it down.