My maternal grandmother, Mable, was handsome, strong and big boned. We got our huge honking feet from her among other attributes. I’m sure she did not accept that she was good looking and she worried over her weight.
She was the eldest of a large family. The youngest was a sister, from their father’s remarriage after he became a widower. Mable’s angst was the worse for sister Anna’s slender build from a different mother.
Meanwhile, let it be known that I watched her in her 50s and 60s battle vigorously and without real success with body image and what books, doctors, family and women’s magazines told her she should weigh, as well as how much of what she should eat to get there. That had the extra nasty wrinkle of the insistence on height/weight charts, already disproved by insurance stats on longevity and health measures, but beloved by physicians.
I heard the scale whirr every morning. She had maybe two feet of diet and nutrition books on one shelf. Many were by the naturopath and chiropractor Gayelord Hauser. He straddled wise and foolish. He advocated natural foods, eschewing white sugar and white flour. Good enough, but he pitched his brand of blackstrap molasses as a kind of panacea, preached absurdly low caloric intake, and in effect expected everyone to thrive on what he did. In fact, he was a high-metabolic-rate ectomorph who wowed his celebrity friends like Greta Garbo with his wit as well as trim physique.
For Mable, the ideals were unworkable. 900 calories a day left her constantly hungry and often weak. She went for Hollywood Bread and another brand I recall as Lite Diet; both had small, very thin slices with few calories, maybe 45? The unamusing joke here is that she was the best baker I’ve ever known. Her pies, cobblers and cakes were superb and treasured by all who knew her. She baked great whole wheat and rye breads in which we delighted. There she was, starving with napkin-thing slices of tasteless junk in her effort to slim.
Sometimes she obviously failed. She was never a porker and her diet breaks did not mean she needed bigger dresses.
Instead, she simply had to eat more to be healthy. Rather than accept that and realize Hauser and the others she trusted were wrong, she snuck. She was not a pantry stuffer, scoffing out of sight. Rather, when she just couldn’t stand her hunger, she’d join us all at the dinner table, as we did each evening. Of course, as family, we had the serving dishes in the middle of the table. Mable would bring a plate with a napkin covering it.
It was sad and fooled no one. She’d tucked more protein under there. She’d stick a fork under the napkin and eat the few extra bites that let her go onto breakfast and another day of food struggles.
We were then as I remain, a straight-ahead, candid family. We would rather she had felt comfortable eating what she needed in plain sight. Yet, our candor did not include calling her on this emotional issue.
It was years later as I trimmed down successfully with Stillman that I reconsidered her struggles and body-image issues. She was large and muscular. She needed more to survive than scrawny folk. She’d never have the body type or metabolism of Hauser or starlets he accompanied. She couldn’t even become like her sister-by-the-second-mother Anna.
Yeah, it’s bad that most medical types are pretty ignorant about nutrition. It’s worse that so many rely on the easy, lazy formulae that fail most of us.
For me, I’m working on my own nutrition plan, regardless of the bad advice from doctors, nurses and a nutritionist. It’s a fair amount of work and requires iterative testing of calories/carbs/protein/fat with my scale and body-fat measurements. That’s still a lot easier intellectually, emotionally and physically than what my grandmother did for those many years. And as a big bonus, I’m not starving myself.
This series includes:
Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie