Back from the Brink


   A not-very-funny thing happened to me on the way to having three children. I had become quite chubby. Not just plump but soft, jiggly, mushy.

   Seeing myself in the mirror, my ample, rounded shoulders reminded me of my dearly departed grandmother, a strong-like-ox Eastern European woman who wore a housedress and slippers as she shuffled across the kitchen floor urging me to eat, eat, eat.

   Having been pregnant for the better part of the last six years, this sad fact of my fatness came as no great shock to me. I had made an uneasy alliance with the baby fat that had annexed my body, and had agreed to hide it beneath elastic waists and long shirts if it would let me continue to eat my kids' chicken nuggets and fish sticks.

   But the image I confronted in the mirror . . . this was not good. Although I had tried to address the problem, it was clear I couldn't do it on my own. I called in the big guns and, for the first time in my life, went on an official diet.

   I started. It worked. I became obsessed. Totally and utterly consumed with every morsel that went into my body. I had two states of being: eating and not eating. All other cares or concerns went by the wayside. Meals and the prospect of all future meals were my sole focus.

   I could only talk with people who were on the same wave length. Who spoke my same language of fat, fiber, calories, and carbs. Those who were eating like normal people, whatever and whenever they wanted, had no place in my world. If you weighed your food and ate out of measuring cups, you had a seat waiting at my table.

   Alongside my fellow soldiers in the war on postpartum fat, we canvassed grocery stores on the hunt for the latest in nonfood-food items. Our cadre of dieters was directly responsible for the great Aunt Millie's low-carb tortilla drought of 2005. Calls would come in from the outposts, "Weight Watcher brownies at Wal-Mart, we need an operative there right away."

   Not surprisingly, I drove everyone around me crazy. My husband, who to my great irritation has no trouble with his weight, missed his eating buddy. Friends who once shared with me the many joys of recreational eating felt the absence of their teammate at the trough. I had become disciplined and dull, all moderation and no fun.

   I was discussing this transformation with a good friend who had recently lost a lot of weight herself. When she had been in full diet mode, I had little tolerance for her obsession and made fun of her regularly. "Listen," I had advised her during one of the daily briefings on her caloric intake, "no one likes the girl who brings rice cakes to the party."

   "Well, well, well, look who's the girl with the rice cakes now," my friend pointed out with no small amount of glee. She was right. This was a problem and it had to stop. I had to let food back into my life, to treat it with the respect it deserved.

   Several nights later at my favorite Indian restaurant, I had my first rendezvous with the very food I had broken up with months ago. As I bit into a samosa, my heart raced. The angels sang as I sunk my teeth into basmati rice smothered with creamy tikka sauce. And that nan bread, pure heaven. I wanted to stand on my seat and shout out, "Fellow diners, it's good to be back!"

   So I'm back together with food, but on somewhat different terms. I pledged to love all of the food groups, not just the ones that come with fries and a shake. I would honor food but keep it in perspective. So far so good. My grandmother would be relieved.