I’ve mentioned before that part of what was surprising about my epiphany was just how far I’d let myself go by the time I finally got a smack in the face by my own fat. And part of why I had let myself go so much was because I thought I was doing pretty well. I was getting low-fat groceries, I went on a walk now and then, I at least knew where the gym was… I was doing pretty well! At least as good as a normal person. Better than a normal person, I thought, especially if the food selection at the grocery store was any indication of the normal American diet. And yet I was enormous.
What revealed just what was wrong with my situation wasn’t really something that happened to me, but something I saw when I was visiting my family for a wedding. My problem was of course that I was eating poorly in general, but the reason I was eating poorly in general was that, bizarrely, being fat was part of my “routine”.
Part 2 in a series (See: Part 1)
I always try to remember that the people who love me only want the best for me. It’s good to keep this in mind when I hear someone’s advice, because sometimes it is so wrong-headed, or so discouraging, or so flabbergasting, or even so offensive, that if it were not for the foundation of “this person cares about me” I would be completely thrown for a loop.
When last I discussed Poisonous Positive Reinforcement, I pointed out the three things that discouraged me – that discourage many fat boys – when I heard them as a kid. Those three fairly common sayings from loved ones were all designed to make me, the fat boy, feel better about myself inasmuch as they absolved me of any responsibility for trying to do something serious about my weight. That was the intent, anyway. But there are many other ways in which positivity can sabotage our efforts, and ways in which loving concern can be a stumbling block.
A short story here that occurred to me while I was writing my previous post about Family Dinner. It’s sort of funny the things you remember about your childhood once you sit down and start writing about it.
One thing closer friends know about me is that tastes don’t really bother me all that much. I can handle almost any taste and will try anything new. But it’s textures that really put me off of something. I’ll try tripe or entrails or tentacles or organs… but try to feed me a honeydew and we’ll hit a wall. Just something about texture is really disgusting to me. Or grits. Or okra. Or a raw carrot… vile. I’ll eat a cooked carrot all day, and carrot cake all week, but force me to choke down a raw carrot and it’ll be a rough day for both of us.
When I was a kid, my parents made every effort to have Family Dinner. Momma and Daddy*, whenever they could, would go through the ritual of having the Family Dinner because they truly believe that the family that eats together stays together. On the occasions this came together I would be in the kitchen watching Momma cook and Daddy would be putting Isaac or Leah through the motions of setting the table in the kitchen nook (we had a dining room… in every place we lived, I believe. But for some reason the actual dining room only ever was used if we had company over). I’d sit on a stool and thumb through Momma’s recipe box as she fiddled with whatever was on the stove, flipping through card after old, weathered card of recipes, some of them Momma’s new editions, but a lot of them heirloom recipes from Momma Joyce, Momma Lilly, Aunt Francis, or Daddy’s momma Grandma Marylin. Out of the corner of my eye I could see little four year old Isaac clumsily placing knifes and forks and plates, then awkwardly folding paper napkins and setting out mismatched drinking glasses. When it was all prepared, we would sit down around the small kitchen-nook table, one of us would pray (my parents thought it was adorable to have me say grace… probably because I was, for a long time, incapable of pronouncing the letters “L” or “R” differently than “W”), then we would eat Family Dinner just the way that we all imagined normal families at Family Dinner.
This ritual actually happened pretty rarely though, for all my parents beliefs and good intentions. If you’re of my generation your parents may have grown up with this belief from the 50s and 60s that Family Dinner was what all true, God-fearing Americans had every night like in a Norman Rockwell painting**. My Momma actually went way out of her way to try to reproduce this kind of idea, not just with Family Dinner but also with Thanksgiving and Christmas and those kinds of memory-making moments. My parents generation was taught that this is what you did and this is what a happy family looked like. It’s interesting that my generation, as far as I can tell, never actually got what my parent’s generation was trying to give us. And by that I mean that Family Dinner wasn’t just a rare ritual for my family, but seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
As a kid – a fat kid – there are all kinds of things our loved ones tell us and do for us to try and tackle our weight problem. I remember from an early age that my mom and dad were very involved in my weight.There was a time, one of my earliest memories having to do with my size, that I remember my parents had taken me to a specialist to be tested and measured to see if there was something amiss with me. I was a physically large child – 3 feet tall at 4 years old – and for all my parents knew I had giantism or something. In this memory I’m looking at a chart showing the curve of normal children’s height and weight at various ages… and the doctor pointing to where I was on the chart. Let’s just say “above normal”. In certain parts of the world I’d pass for a teenager and I was barely in kindergarten.
This is also around the time that I was starting to get pudgy. I don’t remember gaining weight, per se, but I’ve seen pictures of myself around this time and I was thicker than a normal kid, but not what you might call fat. Just “festively plump” as they say. After that, though, I seem to have started gaining weight and started having memories of myself as fat. It’s also, coincidentally, when I remember my parents beginning to say things about my weight: talking to me about it, asking me about it, discussing it between them, encouraging me about it. It became a thing to talk about.
Some former (and current) fat boys have deep, painful memories about the hurtful things people said to them about being fat – even hurtful things their parents or siblings or friends said to them. But what about the positive things? Part of my recollection is the ways in which the positive things my parents said to and about me actually sabotaged me. So what about the situation where, in an effort to be supportive, the people that care most about us poison the well and keep us from doing what we need to do?