I really needed this book. I'm thirty years old and have spent the past year struggling with my weight and with food, trying to figure out if I will have to choose between eating food the way I love to eat food (all the damn time) and just accept being fat, or be stuck in the constant state of eating enough to be a healthy weight, but miss my snacks all the time.
I could relate to Bea so much in this book. I wasn't overweight at 7 (pounds didn't start creeping on until high school), but I shared her eating habits, for sure. I was more picky, though - I only liked it if it was high sugar or high fat. And I'd eat it all. And ask my friends if they were going to finish their lunches, so I could eat that, too. Friends at school took to just giving me their leftovers when they were done eating.
I never considered this weird or unusual until I got older, and I'd totally forgotten it even happened until I read this book, and it all came rushing back. Food's been my obsession since I was little.
I don't know what I would have done if my mother put me on a diet like this at that age. I don't think I would have stuck to it when away from the home. I've always been a little resentful of authority when they tell me to do things without a good reason (to me) or they don't follow their own rules. (Neither of which applied to the mother in this book - she gave plenty of reasons and she followed Bea's diet herself - but I was a different kid.)
My childhood definitely left me with food issues, though, even without being put on a diet. My mom did her best, she tried to teach me healthy habits and encourage me to eat vegetables (I wouldn't eat anything green). When I struggled with acne as a teen, she suggested that if I didn't eat high fat/high sugar foods as much, it might help. But I cared more about eating the food than I did about my face.
As a kid, we never had chips or treats in the house unless it was a special occasion (4th of July stands out as a holiday when I was allowed to choose what chips I wanted). I would go over to friends' houses and shovel their junk food into my face if they had it and made the mistake of offering it to me. My best friend, who lived just down the street, once asked me, "Why do you always come over and eat stuff?" Because you have the yummy stuff mom won't buy! Your mom makes ranch dressing for us to dip the chips into! I want it I want it I want it!
As an adult, eating a bag of chips is almost like a sacred ritual. To me, a big part of feeling like an adult who's allowed to make her own choices is getting to eat an entire bag of chips, or an entire pizza, or an entire pint of ice cream, all by myself. There's freedom in it, and that freedom is DEFINITELY a holdover from a childhood of restriction. I can't help but wonder if "food-obsessed" Bea is going to deal with this when she reaches adulthood as well.
At the same time, my mother never explained calories to me. I had to figure that out as an adult, by the time "calories" and "diet" were already dirty words, and it took me forever to get there. I used to swear I'd never go on a diet, and I'd never count calories. I tried eating "healthy" foods instead. I tried restricting sugar (not going to work - I was totally miserable). I tried exercising, yoga, juicing, etc.
At 25, I finally figured out that counting calories works, and lost 40 pounds. (I have since gained it back, out of resentment for not being "allowed" to eat the foods I love, or to eat freely at parties.) For me, it's the only thing that consistently works. I don't know if I would still struggle the way I do if I'd had those tools earlier in life.
I also very much appreciate that this mother didn't restrict the junk food and make it taboo. One of the things I've been struggling with the past year is untangling my feelings about certain foods being "evil" vs. "good". I am disinclined to believe that all food is just food in equal measure, à la "Health At Every Size", but figuring out the balance of moderation has been a struggle.
I also appreciated how the mom didn't shy away from "fat" and "obese" as identifiers. I've been attempting to reclaim the right to call myself fat. I am. I'm 5'6" and weigh 200 pounds. As my WiiFit likes to say, "That's obese." I don't feel like it does me any good to say "I'm fat" and be greeted with choruses of, "Oh, you're not fat, you have curves." I DO have curves. But I have those curves whether I'm fat or not, and right now, I am curvy, but also fat. If I ignore that, I won't address it. And coming from a family with a history of diabetes and heart problems, I NEED to address it.
The biggest thing that struck me about this book was the idea that food obsession is a lifelong struggle. I liked the distinction between someone being "overweight" and someone being "food obsessed". I have recognized this difference between how I approach food and how others approach it, but I've never had a name for it. I've disagreed with the term "over-eater", because I feel like I have the ability to stop if I need to. I don't feel like my eating is out of control if I'm paying attention to it.
But I am most CERTAINLY obsessed with food. Even if I'm not eating it, I'm always THINKING about it. If I'm at a party, all I can think about is, how long do I have to socialize before it's not weird that I head over to the snacks? And how much can I take without it looking greedy? I take what I hope will satisfy me, and I eat it, and I am stunned by the fact that no one else has even touched the food on the table....aren't they hungry? Don't they want any? And I go back, and back, and back, and maybe two or three other people take one plate the entire time.
I've noticed this. I've been confused by it and not understood why I'm like this. I was grateful to see myself in Bea and her mother, and to give it a name. And I was grateful for the acknowledgement that the struggle with food obsession doesn't end. It will be lifelong. It certainly has been up to this point.
It gives me a certain sense of identity that I can take with me into future weight loss or diet change attempts. And if nothing else, for that, I am extremely happy I read this book.