I found a letter from my dad in the bottom drawer of his dresser. It was about the pain he felt at having been overweight all his life. This, from my merchant marine father who’s stoic in the face of all, who when asked how he felt after breaking his breastbone upon drifting into the center divider of the highway a few years ago said, “Great!”
He said the same thing the time a palm spear implanted itself in his forehead. My sister, speechless when he walked in after trying to “trim” the tree, finally managed to stutter, “Dad, look in the mirror.” Which he did. Then, he simply reached up and with a firm jerk plucked the branch out of his head, releasing a small river of blood down his face. Maybe he was already suffering from early dementia then, but he was patently unfazed by the accident.
Even when he was struck in the side of the head by a line the width of a man’s body as a container ship tried to pull away from the dock, and the line someone forgot to release had snapped, once he regained consciousness in the helicopter, I can imagine him being pretty complacent. I don’t know for sure about that, but I do know that when we saw him, with every bone broken in the side of his face and the whites of his eyes like little red pools with startling green irises floating in the middle, he was, also, “just fine.”
That’s my dad. Which is why when I found the note to self in the bottom drawer recently, it tore at my heart something awful.
Lately, a good bit of news has been percolating out about how wronged we’ve been by the sugar industry, the corn industry, the processed food companies, and then by the nutritionists and scientists they paid off to pronounce the ruling that “fat” is bad for us, carbohydrates are good, when the opposite is true.
I wince when I remember how a few years ago, when we learned one-third of my dad’s heart was not beating at all, and we were told to eliminate salt and fat and etc., etc., I tried to put him on the Dean Ornish diet for a while. It breaks my heart to remember how valiantly he tried to stay on it. My prime rib and rum raisin ice cream loving father subsisting on a diet of bird seed and unsalted steamed spinach. It was laughable, cruel. I bought into it in those days too, believing that steak was “saturated fat” and therefore bad for us. Butter, cheese, ice cream — all bad. Well, maybe ice cream still is, but not because of the cream.
What was he eating? Pumpkin seeds. “Healthy” cereals full of crap, Kashi Crunch which has more sugar than Fruit Loops, according to one article I have not fact checked. Hardly anything, in other words. Of course the diet failed.
My dad loves The Carpenters. I have precious memories of listening to Karen Carpenter’s nonpareil voice rich as molasses delivering her heart-wrenching tunes. When my dad comes for Sunday dinner, we play her songs sometimes. Recently, my 15 year old daughter caught the fever and now plays Karen’s songs from her phone over the car stereo as we drive to school. I told her the story of Karen’s demise at age 33 from anorexia. I looked into the story a little bit more and learned that Karen was following some crazy, shitty no fat-high carb diet. Getting no nutrition whatsoever, or very little to be sure. Anger flooded my chest, bittered my mouth. I can’t imagine how frustrating and confusing that must have been for her.
And for my father too. I remember how proud he was that he made chili once. (Not to be confusing, of course, chili is a good healthy food. My point is, he was trying.) He’s not a cook my dad and never was. If you’re going to believe the bogus “food companies” (oxymoron if I ever heard one) and you don’t know how to cook, if you lack a certain amount of common sense, or have gotten so divorced from your own body that you no longer feel, register, or trust the signals it’s sending you, then you’re going to be up a creek fast when it comes to food and diet.
A few years ago, I read Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise, a great book that began by asking how, if fat was so bad, could she have begun losing weight after taking on a restaurant reviewing job that required her to eat foods she’d always eschewed before — rich, creamy sauces, abundant meat in every cut and style, butter in quantity? And the adage about irresistibly sexy and svelte Parisian women feasting on foie gras, triple cream cheeses, and bountiful red wine?
Exactly. It’s a betrayal. We’ve been betrayed by science and industry and business. They’ve messed up our food, our food supply, our food beliefs, and our common sense.
I don’t want to be unfair or glib. I know it’s not easy, but I wish people could tune into their bodies better and sense inside what they need. I don’t think it’s pie-in-the-sky to believe this may be possible. But, it’s going to require time, patience, trust and confidence in oneself, and a willingness to get into the kitchen.
A few years ago, I saw a movie — have to try to remember the title — with a scene that really moved me. As I recall, it was about a girl that had suffered a good deal of trauma in early life and knew herself not a jot. A friend or therapist, I don’t recall which, suggested she begin to get acquainted with herself. Her divorce from her self was so great that she didn’t even know how she liked her eggs.
She had never noticed, decided, felt safe enough, or been relaxed enough, or long enough without duress, to take the time — the luxury really — to determine, to decide, the simple affair of how she liked her eggs. There was a very sweet scene of this young woman in the kitchen setting out to discover just that. How she liked her eggs. She had to begin at the beginning, to set one foot forward (or turn on a burner). The idea was, if you don’t even know how you like your eggs, what else could you possibly know?
It’s like Maslow’s pyramid. You have to take care of first things first before you can get to the upper levels. I identified with this character and her plight because I recognized myself in her. When I’m asked to express an opinion, especially if I’m nervous, I falter. I don’t know if I actually don’t know what I think, or if anxiety rises and blots out what I think. I’m getting better. I know how I like my eggs now. And I’m learning to make them that way, and rather well. Figure out how you like your eggs. Then, reach for the next hurdle. It’s more important than it seems.
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