Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Going public

“I thought of you right away,” my friend said, calling on her way home from the launch of a charity cookbook. “I’m kicking myself for not bringing you. After all, food is such a big part of your life!”

She has no idea.

“Sharon, what’s the best place for a burger on the Westside?” 
“Can I have the recipe for those little pecan tarts?”  
“Will you teach a bread class for the fundraiser?*" 
"I have to take clients to dinner in Studio City.  Where should we go?" 
"Will you bring your pie to book group?" 
“Have you thought about opening a restaurant?” 

I’m that person. The food friend.

It is a mantle that I wear proudly in the world.

I’m a regular at a great sushi bar. If you ask me about the new place in Los Feliz, I’ll tell you whether the review in The Weekly was on point or not. I go out of my way for the fried egg sandwich at Huckleberry and the cheese pastries at Porto’s. I spend hours cross-referencing Chowhound and Yelp before booking dinner reservations in a new town. The language of menus is meaningful to me.

I subscribe to the magazines, and dog-ear the pages. I troll favorite blogs, pinning like mad. My cookbook collection has spilled out of the kitchen and into the den, with more being dropped at my doorstep each week. At times, I’ve used every single one of the mixing bowls stacked in my cupboard at once. I own a cherry pitter for a reason.

Food fills my conversations. We are eating one meal, dissecting the last, and planning the next. The combination of remembered enjoyment and anticipated pleasure somehow makes each bite in between that much more remarkable, particularly when the experience is shared.

“They ate well.”

My husband declared this would be set in stone on our graves one night. “That’s how we’ll be remembered,” he stated with rueful satisfaction. We’d just finished a tremendous steak dinner and most of an expensive bottle of wine. I lifted my own glass, echoed the idea back to him and meant it. “Yes. They ate well! “ I toasted back.

“To eating well!”

But of course, it's not that simple. There is a flip side to all this warm and fuzzy feel-good foodiness.

I graze the pantry at night, shoveling handfuls of kettle corn into my mouth almost without thinking. I reach past the fruit for the brick of cheese to slice hurriedly into wedges on my way out the door. The basket of warm rolls on the table is decimated before the waiter brings our salads. I have seconds on pizza, slather butter on toast, dip into the jar of pretzels on the counter several times in the course of an hour. I choose fries and not salad on the side. I shop hungry on purpose.

I have stashes of food in the car. Hell, I have stashes of food all over my body. On my hips. In my belly. Under my arms. In a butt that barely fits into the seat of an airplane now. An airplane, by the way, that I will board with a full picnic including dessert and a snack to be consumed with a tinge of guilt from my tray table while my fellow fliers look on enviously.

I am this person, too. The fat, undisciplined friend.

I do not blog about this. Or talk about it. Or toast to it with my husband over a bottle of wine. I live with it, privately.

A trained therapist, if I had one, would help me trace the roots of my pathological fear of starving back to my childhood. To memories that tie food to pure and vivid joy that I am trying desperately to relive. We’d discuss my mother, the source of this starvation phobia, who bred her own fear into me by example. My mother, who proceeded to starve herself to death in front of my eyes.

I quietly let myself off the hook. I cannot, after all that, be blamed for the doughnuts and the Doritos. I’m fucked up about food from way back.

From time to time, I exert myself to change. To slow down, eat less, skip dairy. I go to the gym, come out surprisingly refreshed and vow to go back. Intellectually, in the same way I know the proportions of a good vinaigrette, I know the formula for taking off the pounds that have been piling up:

  • Write down what you eat. 
  • Work out with weights one day, and run wind sprints the next. 
  • Don’t have dinner after 7 pm. 
  • Drink eight glasses of water a day. 
  • Chew each bite 20 times. 
  • Leave food on the plate. 
  • Live on kale and quinoa and squash and carrots, preferably all together in a cold-pressed bottle of juice
  • Give up cocktails. 
  • Take up raw nuts. 

I make a deal with myself to try these things, and it lasts a week. Sometimes a month. Sometimes not even the day. I am an unreliable counter-party, growing larger and more unstable all the time. It’s almost as though I am punishing myself with food privately for the pleasure eating brings me in the open aspects of my life. When I look in the mirror, I am close to despair.

I’m slowly losing this battle because I’ve been struggling alone. No more. As of now, I’m putting the whole sloppy, complicated, emotional mess of my relationship with eating out there. The feelings of discovery and accomplishment and validation that I soak up by pursuing this passion have to be tempered by accountability and moderation and measurable milestones in taking care of myself. I will say the words out loud* to make them real and true, and make sure someone hears me say them:

My life will be better if I am healthy.
Food is a big part of what makes life good, but my life is full of other joys, too.
I owe it to myself to finally do this right.

I’m taking the first step by going public.
Come with me**.

* Or do the blogging equivalent and posting them online.
** Follow the 50x50 Project here, or via the tab at the top of the blog.  Don't worry, I'll still be eating well.  Just cutting back on the midnight kettle corn.


  1. Good luck, Sharon. I've fought this battle all my life. I'd like to think I have it under control now. At least my doctor doesn't mention my weight anymore.

    Arlene V.d.W.

    1. Well done! I literally die every time I have to weigh in at my physical. Hopefully I'll be a lot less mortified when that time comes around again. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  2. Wow, Rona. I'm proud of you for "coming out," and most of us have all of the "food issues" you refer to above. But please don't be so hard and critical of yourself. Yes, 30 years ago we could have a cookie company and eat all we wanted and it didn't stay on our hips. Well, we're older now, so we need to be a little more careful and concerned about our health. At the same time, I think limiting yourself to a "deck of card" size meal or snacking on roasted kale (gross!) is unacceptable. How about you just do one or two of the things on the list - drink 8 glasses of water and walk or run for 45 minutes a day (really, wind sprints and weights?) That alone will do wonders for your health, and it is about health and nothing else. Don't deprive yourself, and don't try to make yourself into something you are not, or live in a way that is going to make you unhappy. Very little, subtle changes can make a huge difference to your health, it doesn't have to be painful and it doesn't have to mean that you aren't going to eat well and explore new recipes and tell me what to cook for Thanksgiving dinner when I call you in a panic. You are one of the most awesome people I know, and I love you just the way you are! Rina

    1. I love you, too, Rina! You are one of the people that is inspiring me to do this, as a matter of fact, my marathon-running cookie partner in crime. And don't worry, all things in moderation for sure. I happen to really like kale and green juice smoothies, but wind sprints and me will never be pals.

  3. You are so incredibly brave and awesome. And I hope you know you're not alone. The food thing is so difficult for so many --tied up in all those old family issues and feelings and hurts. I've been struggling with the food thing too (did I just say that out loud) -- your post is already making me braver too. Much love and much support! Let me know when you want to hike! xoxo

    1. If nothing else comes of this, your comment about this making you a tiny bit braver makes it entirely worth while. I've been watching other women make this brave decision for themselves all around me, and it's a great, albeit completely nerve-wracking, feeling to be out there with them. Thanks!

  4. "Coming out" is hard no matter what closet you're hiding in. I had a similar experience with wine and weight. I didn't have a glass of wine alone until I was 47. But slowly it became 2+ glasses of wine a night. The wine lead to eating late at night that lead me to skip playing tennis, or any sort of movement at all. But one day I turned around and didn't like my reflection. So I made a commitment to only drink socially, changed my diet to the Bittmen "vegan until dinner" that has helped me shed some much needed pounds (I am not a fanatic, if I'm in a diner it's bacon, two over easy and rye toast with butter) and I got a fit bit and so did a friend. My competitive side wants to achieve the most steps, it keeps me moving. I think for me it was setting myself up to succeed. I think you've got a plan where you will too will succeed. Thanks so much for your courage to come out.

    1. I can totally see you with the wine, and also challenging your friend with the Fit Bit. I'm planning on getting one for myself, so I'm really glad to know it helps. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Sharon! You are one of my favorite people who I simply don't see enough! It's been a hot minute since I've seen you and I hate to hear the sadness in your writing voice but so proud to hear the little roar that is also escaping. Sadly - you are a WONDERFUL cook! And you do it ALL so well. That is a problem because who the hell can't eat your food!

    But I think that you are making a huge step forward and glad that you are going to make changes in moderation - as they always should be. "Outing" yourself is good, but please don't feel too much pressure if you "slip." The hardest part of aging has been the weight thing. It's so unfair! But we have to deal and juicing and lots of water and eating in moderation and eating slower is a great way to make big changes without it hurting too much.

    Walking and stairs are a great way to get the weight down, and you can do it in little ways, like park at the very back of a parking and walking (at a good pace) to the front of the store. Ban elevators for your life and only take the stairs. Dedicate two mornings to fast walk for 45 minutes. If you over exercise you might get hurt or so sore you won't workout again for a week or two - and that's no good.
    A trick that worked for me... post your favorite photo of yourself at your ideal weight (no, not when you were tiny and 20 - something more obtainable for the moment) and put it on the fridge and the pantry and let it be a reminder that you have a goal, it will help the treats from jumping out at you. Also, you might want to get a check up and make sure that you have enough iron and potassium and that all your levels are normal, you might be eating more because there is a blood imbalance (which is what a friend of mine just found out).
    I am rooting for you and I know that you will reach your goal of a healthier you! I know it!! Let me know if you ever want to take the dogs on a hike or a run ;)
    Miss you Chica!

    1. Oh, how I love all of these ideas! Baby steps, but a lot of them, from very far away in the parking lot. Perfect! Thank you!!!