by Maria Lagalante Schulz
Boy, am I hungry.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been forced to follow a much more rigid eating plan than I would ever voluntarily embrace.
Now, it’s not like I sit around the house, wearing my Walter Hudson moo-moo, with a spoon and a tub of lard. Things have not gotten so bad that I will have to be cut out of the house and removed with a forklift one day.
But the vagaries of DNA, combined with my love of such things as Suzy Q’s and coke, have made dieting an unwelcome guest at my dinner table and in my life.
My goal has always been to get out of this life alive or die trying. I just didn’t plan to do it without some fun food in both hands.
Here are the 7 Tips of Highly Successful Dieters, or at least the ones those annoying naturally thin people like to give me:
1) Eliminate soda completely from your life. Now I know that smokers can often tell you the exact minute and day that they gave up smoking forever. My father still speaks longingly about “having a smoke,” and he gave up smoking almost 30 years ago. I never understood those people. Except for now. I gave up soda of any kind on March 21. I am more upset that I won’t be able to participate in the 125th Anniversary celebration of the birth of Coca Cola (did you know, the first Coke was served in a store in Atlanta? How come I do?) then I was to learn that I wasn’t on the guest list for the Royal wedding. It’s just as well—I don’t like bangers and mash anyway.
2) Stop eating snacks at work. I have started counting the amount of times that food is offered to me while I work. I’m up to 157. No, I’m just kidding…sort of. Someone is always baking, or it’s someone’s birthday, or they bring in their kids’ Halloween candy, or someone just went shopping at the supermarket and brought back enough donuts to feed an army. In the interest of being polite, I usually say yes. Now that I’m saying no all the time, people get mad.
3) Eat more fruits and vegetables. I have eaten more salads, apples, and bananas than some wild animals. I am fearful that I will soon sprout leaves and vines from my head. How come I never get sick of White Castle, but I’m so sick of fruits and vegetables?
4) Don’t eat processed food when you can go fresh. So, let me get this straight…I shouldn’t eat Twinkies? Because it’s got a “sell by” date on it, and it seems pretty fresh. Wait, no?
5) Make lots of choices from the four food groups. How come there’s no “Hostess” or “Entenmann’s” listed? I thought that was a food group.
7) Cut back on your favorite foods. Red meat once a week. Whole eggs once a week. Vegetarian options, white meat or egg whites instead. Pasta once a week. It’s called the “I’m Going to Live Forever, But I’ll Be Frowning” Diet.
So, you’re probably wondering, what the heck does this have to do with Mother’s Day? Well, my constant state of hunger brings me back to my own mother and her eternal struggle with food.
My mom was closing in on 40, with long brown hair and a big smile. After having 7 kids, her hourglass figure resembled a shot glass. She wasn’t exactly Twiggy, but then only Twiggy was Twiggy. She knew she had to do something, so she went on a super strict diet and joined a gym.
My mother’s dedication to her eating plan helped her drop 30 pounds. She would also get into a black leotard and head off to Elaine Powers on Main Street in Flushing, where she would do aerobics, lift weights, and sometimes do yoga (when she wasn’t actually sleeping).
My mother bought a kitchen scale and weighed her food constantly. When she cooked or baked something that was off her plan, she gave up her portion and let us eat it instead. She would eat a large plate of greens that looked like something she hacked off a bush in the backyard.
Her commitment to the cause soon landed her the role of “sponsor” to another woman in her eating plan. That meant that my mother would share her best tips with the newbie over the phone every single day. She would encourage her, point out ways to stay on plan, and cheer her on when she had a successful day.
Sometimes, my mom’s new friend would call, and I’d hear my mom say things to her like, “Don’t cry. It’s just a cookie. You can resist it.” And “I’m so proud of you! You were able to resist those yodels!”
I would often talk to my mother’s friend before my mom got on the phone. She was a kind woman who would send gifts home to Chris and me. Small things like a deck of cards or a beach ball would thrill us. We, too, would encourage her to stick to the plan and congratulate her when she reached her weight loss goals.
Later that year, on our birthday, Chris, my parents, Joe, Paul and I went to Jahn’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Richmond Hill. It was a big, beautiful ice cream parlor, full of old fashioned booths and decked out in 50s paraphernalia. Jahn’s was known for its Kitchen Sink sundae, which was huge and served six. There were also such favorites as The Boilermaker, the Joe Sent Me, the Suicide Frappe, the Awful Awful, the Screwball’s Delight, and the Flaming Desire, five scoops of ice cream topped by a flaming sugar cube.
We loved going to Jahn’s especially because when it was your birthday, they gave you free ice cream. And today was Chris’s and my birthday.
We showed up, birth certificates in hand, and ordered our free sundaes. My mother came along for the ride, determined not to have any ice cream at all.
“Nothing?” I said, incredulously. “Remember that time you and Dad shared The Kitchen Sink with us?”
“Yes,” my mother replied, “but that’s not on my plan. I can’t have it.”
When our waitress returned with our order, she had mistakenly made a sundae for my Mom too.
“I can’t eat this,” my mother said.
“Well, it’s free,” the waitress said. “So you might as well enjoy it.”
My mother eyeballed that sundae with such longing and she looked so torn. She wanted it, but she also realized that it would probably send her on a downward spiral that included cake, cookies, just one more cheeseburger, and the works.
“No,” my mother said. “I’m not going to eat this.”
We all congratulated her as we dug into our sundaes, oblivious to how hard this must be for her.
But I think I have a clue now.
I went on the Scarsdale Diet with my mother in 1979. My mom was having such success with it; I thought I’d like to try it too.
“It’s hard,” my mother said. “You really don’t have to do it.”
“No, I want to,” I said, and so my mother let me try it.
I was fine from Sunday to Thursday. But on Friday afternoon, when I joined my mother for dinner, there was nothing on my plate but a wedge of cabbage and one egg.
“What the heck is this?” I said.
“Dinner,” my mother replied. “Eat the cabbage and it will fill you up.”
I ate the dinner in about 2 minutes. Then, I started to come to a full boil. “I can’t do this!” I replied, and raced out the door.
What followed was a weekend-long food festival that included pizza, pasta, cannolis, an IV-drip of coca-cola, napoleons, flying saucers, meatball parmesan heroes, sausage and peppers, and profiteroles. There were no vegetables on the menu those two days.
I realized then that fad diets were never going to work for me. The Catholic schoolgirl in me HATES being told what to do, even if it’s good for me. Maybe especially when it’s good for me.
These days, I remind myself of my father’s Mom. She was a diabetic who spent my entire life “being good” ahead of blood tests and then going off the rails once the tests were over.
If Nonni ever came over prior to her tests, she would watch her sugar carefully. But if the tests were over, she would have a little bit of cakes, cookies, and pies.
I admired her tremendous willpower. I could never take just a little bit of anything without wanting a whole lot of everything. If my grandmother’s sugar was high, she would skip the goodies and eat sensibly.
When I stayed with my grandmother during summer vacations, Nonni drank skim milk, ate loads of fruits and vegetables, and never had sweets. Her philosophy was, parties are the time to celebrate, and that meant cake.
I understand her a little bit better now too.
I guess I always figured I’d take after my mother’s mother. She lived a long life and enjoyed her creature comforts. There was nothing that Nanny liked to do more then down a can of coke and eat a big bowl of Lipton Chicken Noodle soup. The more noodles, the better!
Never mind that her blood pressure was off the charts high, she craved salty sweet things every single day. She loved to munch on pretzels, cookies or donuts while we watched our soap operas. I can still see the look of pure, unadulterated joy on her face when I brought her chocolate covered pretzels from Stern’s Department Store many years later.
Her love of junk food was offset by the fact that she walked everywhere. She would take long walks down to Main Street in Flushing, where we would spend hours going from the train trestle stand (moccasins for $5! Feather earrings, $2!) to Korvette’s, Bang Bang, or Sam Goody’s. After a few hours of walking and bargain hunting, we would duck into a pizzeria and have a couple of slices and a big can of Coke.
I really understand her too, and I’m glad we had that time together.
So now that Mother’s Day is here, I am thinking a lot about all the moms who are gone from my life.
I want to thank them for making those growing up years such happy ones. Yes, I learned a lot of bad habits from them. But I also learned what it was to face your fears, do something you never thought you’d ever be able to do, and exhibit tremendous willpower.
I’d love to thank them for letting me have a carefree existence. Sure, I was never the skinniest kid around, but I always had a good time.
I hope they’re all in Heaven, having a good time. My grandmothers can eat cake, cookies and Lipton Chicken noodle soup to their heart’s content. And as for my mother, I hope she’s having all the ice cream sundaes she wants.
Now that the tables have turned and I’m the one who has to show some will power, I like to think that they’re all watching, rooting for me, whispering tips and encouragement in my ear.
Because like my mother once said, it is only a cookie.
Apparently, steel cut oatmeal is the best kind to have (who knew? You mean those little packets are overly processed? Bummer). Anyway, my brother Joey suggested that I try oatmeal for breakfast since it’s so filling. And unlike that one egg and cabbage dinner that sent me on a weekend long binge, I really liked it. So go on and give it a try. Maybe you’ll be converted too.
¼ cup Steel Cut Oatmeal
1 ¼ cup skim milk
1-2 tsp. pure Maple Syrup
Dab of butter
Pinch of salt
Bring milk to a boil. Lower heat and add oatmeal. Simmer for 20-25 minutes and stir until you get it to the desired consistency. Turn off the heat; add butter, salt and maple syrup. Cut up the banana and add it to the oatmeal. Serve hot. Enjoy!
Do you have a tip you’d like to share? Want to tell a funny “hungry” story? Please leave a comment and join the fun.