Last night I attended a graduation party for two of my cousins on my mom’s side. It was in the evening, so the primary foods supplied were desserts: vanilla ice cream with options of different syrups and crushed Oreo double-stuff cookies; vanilla cake with vanilla frosting; oatmeal raisin cookies; fruit pizza (not as weird as it sounds, basically a sugar cookie-like base, with a spreading of yogurt/cream and topped with cut-up fruit); brownies; and little skewers of fruit. But my grandmother, Mèmere, brought a vegetable tray with red and orange peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber and celery.
Most people immediately homed in on the desserts, and I did have a piece of the fruit pizza, and some of the fruit. But I also munched on the veggies, and while I was eating I told Mèmere about my thoughts on becoming a weight-loss coach.
“Now tell me,” she said, “from your highest weight, how much did you lose?”
I know I’ve answered this question before, but given the number of grandchildren she has, and how little she sees me, I can’t be surprised she doesn’t remember. “One hundred thirty-five pounds,” I answered, crunching away on the celery hearts.
She shook her head in amazement. “If you don’t mind, I want to ask you something personal.” I nodded encouragingly, unable to imagine what sort of question she would ask me in a fairly public gathering that would make me not want to answer. “I want to know if you remember one time when we went to Sebago Lake.” I shook my head, although I had a vague memory of a family gathering there one long-ago summer.
She continued, “I was sitting next to you on the beach, and you were eating two hamburgers. You were already very heavy, and I said to you, ‘Erica, do you think maybe one might be enough?’ But you got a bit angry and just shook your head and said, ‘No, I’m here to enjoy myself, so I’m going to eat what I want.’”
“I don’t really remember,” I admitted, although it definitely sounded like something I might have said – and something she would have said.
“And then you and Jeremiah went off somewhere and had whole bags of cookies.” She smiled. “But here you are. Now you know that you really don’t have to eat that much, and you’re thinking of telling other people how to eat.”
That was when I got angry. “I want to help people if that’s what they want,” I clarified.
I don’t know if she actually heard me or not – her hearing isn’t the best of times, and other people came into the kitchen then. She just said, “That’s why I brought what I did, to make sure there are options.”
I debated pursuing the matter, but I decided it wasn’t worth it. Instead, on my way home, I considered why I was angry. Partly it was because her comment reminded me of a very difficult and unpleasant time in my life, when I certainly wouldn’t have been hovering over the vegetable tray. I might have been like one of my other cousins last night, who ate too many sweets and then ate something healthy to try to soothe my upset stomach, but even that would have been pushing it.
But it was more than that. It was the sense that she felt so vindicated, yet without acknowledging her role in why I turned to food for enjoyment at a family picnic. It certainly wasn’t fun for me to visit with my grandparents, who made me feel like I was a bad person because I weighed so much, as if I wasn’t worth anything until or unless I lost weight. The simple fact that she still tells me every time I visit how good I look continues to emphasize that, although we get along better in general now.
The other thing was the implication that I intend to tell other people what and how to eat, which is completely the opposite of what I want to do. My goal is simply to share my experience and what I’ve learned, and help people determine what works best for them. I am very willing to help people figure out eating methods and strategies, and exercise routines, etc., but I don’t ever want to be in a position of telling someone what or how much to eat.
Knowing that, I can let go of the anger. Instead, I’m left with a bit of sadness that in so many fundamental ways, I don’t think Mèmere will ever understand what I went through, and in some ways still go through. I just hope that I can help others get to the same place as me, even if it’s in a different way, and without making them feel defensive about what goes in their mouth. One might be enough, but that has to be their choice, as it has become mine.