all of the selves we Have ever been
Diet was my first four-letter word.
I can recall fifty popular diets faster than I can name the fifty states. Go ahead, give it a try.
I bet you can do it too.
Here’s a head start: Fletcherism, also known as chewing your food until it becomes liquid.
That would slow me down! I could probably fit in
one meal a day if I went light. But I don’t have the patience, and I do have a life. Then there was the 1950s Pray Your Weight Away Diet. Self-explanatory.
These two early diets posed no real hazards except wear and tear on your teeth and maybe taxing the Lord’s patience, but all that changed with the Sleeping Beauty Diet made popular in 1966 by the book, The Valley of the Dolls. I would not have been allowed to read such scandalous literature when I was in grade school, but from what I understand, the Sleeping Beauty Diet encouraged the use of sedatives to sleep up to twenty hours per day. A dieter might be able to get in one quick smooch from her prince, but there wasn’t time for much else regardless of how thin or beautiful she became in the process. Enter eating disorders. Exit Elvis Presley, a proponent of the diet.
The first actual diet book I saw in my home as a child was the 1961 bestseller Calories Don’t Count. It was a hopeful thought, but turned out to be the first popular no-carb, high-fat, high-protein diet that was supplemented by the use of safflower oil in cooking and in capsules. I was curious about the book’s appearance in our home but too young to be thinking about diets. I did notice that my extended family became spokespeople for safflower oil. I always wondered how folks from the Middle East turned on olive oil. Now I know.
By the time I was ten years old, I was nearly my full adult size and shape. It was rough going always lining up next to the teacher. And I became very self-conscious about my proportions which I confused with weight. In addition, I grew up with a grandmother whose motto was “food in proportion to the love.” You can see where this is going…
My grandmother ran a grocery store and managed to feed her entire community throughout the Great Depression. She was an artist in the kitchen. My grandmother also had seven daughters who had the gift. In my extended family, women outnumbered men by at least three-to-one. When we were all together, the men watched TV while the women chattered about food and diets. Talk about a mixed message: Food was love; it was also poison.
To make matters worse, food was always available. There would be pie or raisin bread on the counter top, kielbasa on the stove, flank steak in the oven…No need to bother looking in the refrigerator. In my grandmother’s house, the words, “taste this,” were said more often than “amen” was uttered in church. A spoon was held to your lips like it was Holy Communion. What good Catholic would turn down a free sacrament?
By the time I was a teenager, processed convenience foods had flooded the market along with vending machines. There were so many new ways to eat and still remain starving. As teens, we worried about our immediate satisfaction, not the long run. Today, my long run is significantly shorter. Now, I worry about the long run!
But back in high school I teetered between junk food and the latest diet craze. A frequent lunch was a drink and a sandwich. That would be a sugary orange ade in a container that looked like a milk carton and an ice cream sandwich. If we had Home Ec class earlier that morning, I might also have eaten my share of a cherry pie. In my defense, I was in a hurry at lunch time. My friends and I grabbed something quick and headed up to the French classroom where our after-lunch class was held. We would talk and eat and prepare for the entertainment. When Peggy finished her red hots, the box became a kazoo. Peggy accompanied Angele as she stomped her foot, clapped her hands and sang:
“She was ten feet tall and had one purple eyeball. It took eight of us to milk her every day. She had twenty-seven spigots, and the neighbors all bought tickets just to see us milk her and to hear us saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay-ay: Pass the udder udder over to my udder brudder…”
High on sugar and our own cleverness, we howled with laughter. I still remember that song, but don’t ask me to say anything in French. We all lived through high school in spite of ourselves. I don’t know what happened to Peggy. Angele went on to Phi Beta Kappa status in college and later became a distinguished writer and poet. I reached mid-life without developing diabetes.
Basketball season meant hanging around after school waiting for the games to begin. Parents weren’t able to drive you back and forth. Such an occasion usually meant sharing a bag of watermelon candies with my friend Patricia until we got home later that night and devoured real food. Patricia went on to become a physician. I suppose I ate far more of the candy than she did.
In the summers, when I had more control over my day, I either read about or tried many of the fad diets: the Grapefruit Diet, Cookie Diet, Slim Fast Diet, Scarsdale Diet, and the Cabbage Soup Diet. I guess I did not get too extreme because my parents never interfered. I usually managed to lose weight and return to school in September as a slimmed-down version of myself.
Following high school graduation, I went to work in the city. I continued my love-hate relationship with food. I didn’t make much money starting out, and McDonalds had arrived on the scene. For eighty cents, I could get a hamburger, fries, and small soft drink for lunch. More diets came and went through my adult years: Beverly Hills Diet, Jenny Craig, Liquid Diet, Low-Fat Diet, the Zone, Medifast, Blood Type, the Subway Diet, Atkins, South Beach, Master Cleanse, Raw Food, Nutrisystem, Special K, Apple Cider Vinegar, Gluten-Free, Paleo, Keto…am I at fifty yet?
Now I’m older and the metabolism is set on slooooooooooooooow. The lack of activity during this pandemic isn’t helping. I could probably get by on three meals a day each comprised of a communion wafer and some water. Maybe I’ll write a book about that…
PS: If you are considering the Juicing Diet, think about it: