Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sweet Tooth

"You really have a sweet tooth, don't you?" my husband said. When he posed the question, I was on tiptoes stretching upwards to reach an 8 oz. container of Trader Joe's English Toffee. I hesitated before responding; my hand suspended midair. Then, I grabbed the plastic box and tossed it into our shopping car. "Yes," I said, marching down the aisle, a smirk enhancing my face.

My husband's statement was not unfamiliar. I had heard similar comments about my sweet tooth from my mother and my first husband. In the earlier instances, I remained silent, caught their intent and sheepishly returned to the shelf or fridge the goody I was about to digest.

My mother, long deceased, was thin and pretty. She worried if I mimicked my father's appetite, I would grow fat and unwell. And, she had my father's fate nailed, for he died at age 47, overweight, diabetic, and a three-pack-a-day Camel smoker. Sadly, I doubt it was an untimely death Mother feared for her only daughter. Instead, I believe it was the prospect of me being unattractive, and ring-less while my college girlfriends flashed theirs.

I wasn't surprised when Mother urged me to see the Diet Doctor. At the time, I was probably 5 pounds over my ideal weight. But certainly, with my publicized love of sweets, those 5 could easily double, triple. Couldn't they? I’d visit the doctor weekly, twitch in a waiting room stuffed with patients, step on the scale while nervously eyeing the balance beam, and then accept 3 bottles of colored pills to be taken at various times of the day.

And they worked! The pounds came off. I also became super fast at anything I attempted. Clean the house? Done in an hour. Homework? Zoomed through it. Sleep? Sorry, no. So, that medical miracle was abandoned. Instead, Mother used her Singer to open up my skirt waistbands and add a bit of matching fabric. (Swiped from the hem no doubt, as my young self never made it to 5’.)

When I married in 1960, my slim husband took over the parenting role. The line I most remember from our 30-year hitch was, "Mother loves her cake." He was referring to me (with two children, I was "Mother" and he "Father."). That statement about cake doesn't sound particularly threatening now, but at the time, I translated it to: "You have an uncontrollable appetite. You will get fat. I will leave you." So, I would interrupt my bite, replace the cake, and slink from the kitchen.

When Weight Watchers came to Chicago, I was first in line. Its rules appealed to a list-maker like me. All I had to do was follow instructions and the extra pounds (about 10 by now) would disappear. Eventually they did, but along with them went any affection for fish. (In the early days, Watchers had to eat 5 fish meals per week.)

Besides Weight Watchers, I accumulated every diet book published. Their promises lined my bookshelves until later in my life when the sight of them and the memory of the pathetic woman I once was, made me toss the lot into the garbage.

In my second marriage, the urge to be thinner (my husband is a 3-times-a-week YMCA-er without an ounce of fat on his Gentile body) returned. I found a website, CalorieKing, and by weighing, measuring, and recording everything I put in my mouth, managed to lose another 10 pounds.

From below the neck, attired in Size 2 black Banana Republic blouse and slacks, I looked a fashion model. But up above, a grey-haired crone creaked into view. I never thought I'd ever utter these words, but: I was too skinny. I looked older, sicker, on my way out. So I abandoned my strict documenting, relaxed the portions, and added back 5 pounds.

Now, if I want apple strudel (that's what Mother snatched from my fingers), cake, or English Toffee, I just go ahead and chomp. And if anyone -- spouse, relative, or onlooker -- has anything to say about my choice, I just smile and continue my sweet. Care for a bite?