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I have never been much of a history buff. Literary escapism and the creation of indelible icons has always seemed more exciting a discipline to me. But I do retain a personal awareness of World War II. Allied counterthrusts may have repelled the German offensive on the Western front, but, more than fifty years later, I am still fighting the Battle of the Bulge.
If Pavlov could teach a dog that a bell signaled food, how much more could he have taught a perspicacious infant! It didn't take me long to figure out that my mother was the source of skim milk and string beans, while my three doting aunts on the second floor were a warehouse of fats, carbohydrates, and deliriously unrefined sugars. Trying desperately to recreate the "Old Country" in their modern American kitchen, they spent their days cooking, baking, and spit-polishing the apartment for Uncle Sam. Since they were so bereaved while Uncle Sam was at work, I quickly learned to spend my days amid the sweet, sour, and savory smells of Eastern European edibles. By the time I was three, they had turned me into the Ukrainian Gerber baby -- a smiling countenance with several chins and cheeks so robust they could scare even the Cossacks away. They offered unconditional love lavished in a latka.
As I grew up (and out), I attacked my weight problem with every weapon that a svelte-centered society could provide. My mother, an anorexic long before the diagnosis became popular, shepherded me to the "diet doctor", a combination shaman/charlatan who dispensed diet pills with abandon. At age 13, I was swallowing speed without understanding the resultant need to grind my teeth or play tennis at 6 am. Of course, I lost the weight. I lost it again and again and again. I remember a desperate week in college when I was invited to the opera. On Monday, my little black dress was indeed little. For a week, I ate only breakfast. Triumphantly, by Saturday night I could zip the dress and breathe simultaneously.
Another time, I prepared for a trip abroad with an instant fix. To this day, I can hardly believe that I ate unlimited quantities of cabbage and farmer's cheese for a week. It was the "unlimited quantities" part that roped me in. I soon learned that cabbage and farmer's cheese are self-limiting. You can only eat so much before you have to donate your body to science. I have also eaten only grapes for two weeks, spent ten days eating plain yogurt, and tried every diet from Atkins to Zucchini.
In fact, my most successful diet was the easiest. I ate absolutely nothing for 12 weeks, a feat much easier than eating moderately for any period of time. I subsisted on a beverage that would make brewer's yeast seem tasty. I reached my goal, and then entered the period bizarrely titled "Refeeding." I was excellent at that. I'm sure that I gained five pounds before I even walked out of the doctor's office. I refed myself so successfully that I returned to my pre-diet weight with alacrity.
Finally, I ran out of diets. My youngest child -- the baby -- is almost six feet tall and wears a size 13 shoe. The concerned community which assuaged my fears and assured me that the baby weight would disappear as I nursed and nurtured has fallen silent. My mother has been gone for almost fifteen years, making it futile to fight the psychological battle against her dicta of deprivation. At almost 52, I have learned to take responsibility for what I eat and for its ultimate destination in my arteries and abdomen. Today, the battle is intensely personal -- a fight to the death between my mouth and me. I have recruited the help of friends and relatives as I reframe my Snickers break to chomp on countless carrots; bags and bags of peeled baby carrots masquerading as snack food. I have begun to take control over the issue that has controlled me for most of my life. Naturally, my brain has been affected. The other day, I even thought that Richard Simmons made sense.
The practical rewards are innumerable. I'll have extended storage space when I throw out the four residual sizes of clothing in my closet. Chives are cheaper than chocolate. I'll no longer have to devise secure hiding places for my clandestine cookies. But most important -- I'll have the vitality to bring the Baby Boomers kicking and screaming into the new millennium. I just hope the carrot industry can accommodate us!
Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
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