(psst: this is a series, and this is the very first post! If you’re new to the series, here’s what you need to know: I put my mom on a diet (because she asked me to, and I’ve lost 135 pounds myself (naturally). Here is the plan I designed for her, and here are her weekly updates: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5, week 6, week 7, week 8, week 9, week 10, week 11, week 12, week 13, week 14, week 15, week 16, week 17, week 18, week 19, 1 month eating on her own, 1 year later.)
The first thing you have to ask yourself when putting your mom on a diet is a no-brainer:
Am I going to hell for this?
Once you’ve come to grips with the fact that yes, you are, indeed, headed south, it’s really only the logistics of the actual diet that will seem daunting.
I guess I should start by saying that my mom asked me to do this. But wait—no; let’s start over. The beginning.
For as long as I can remember, Mom has been overweight. “Thick” to use a modern word. At 5’7”, she’s classically pear-shaped—small throughout her upper body with wider hips and an ample bum. In her younger years—late teens and early twenties—she was naturally slim, one of those women who drank Coke and ate Ring Dings with seemingly little effect on her waistline. She modeled briefly before she had my brother and got married. But then. The weight slowly crept on. She had me three months before her 30th birthday. And year after year, decade after decade, the pounds came, turning from two to five to ten to twenty.
Growing up, I can’t remember hearing her utter a word of dissatisfaction about her body, other than gripes about the varicose veins on her legs, which caused her pain. We didn’t own a scale, didn’t speak of diets, and, since Dad and I were both well beyond chubby, none of us would ever have shamed another for their fatness. I’ve always been quietly but abundantly grateful for that.
We loved food then as we love food now: a crazy lot. More than most, certainly. My mother is a woman who shipped our favorite White’s Bakery cake 3,000 miles across the country to celebrate my book deals when I lived in Seattle. (And this is her daughter, who ate that cake in spite of the good smashing it took in transit.) She eats whatever she wants, whenever she wants, and owns it. None of those guilty “oh I shouldn’t!” or “I’m being bad today” phrases tumble from her lips before she tucks into a brownie sundae. Mom’s spirited about food; she’s unabashed, and I love that. But all of this is not to say that she doesn’t have her own set of issues with eating. She uses food, admittedly, for a number of reasons unbound to hunger—for comfort, stress relief, fun, to quell boredom, and to stay awake at work, to name a few. On a very basic level, though, what I see in her eating is this: Mom uses food as the way she gives back to herself after she’s given all she has to everyone else. Food—the amount, the choice of what and when and where—it’s the only thing that’s hers and hers alone.
Only when I turned twelve—sixteen years ago—and I embarked on my first diet at the urging of my doctor, did Mom begin to talk about her own weight as something she’d consider changing. Since then, she’s lost weight two times—fifty pounds, about twelve years ago, which left her in the most glowingly confident state I’ve ever seen her, and twenty-ish pounds in the fall of 2011 for my brother’s wedding.
Now, she’s the heaviest she’s ever been, a place she tells me she thought she’d never find herself. She’s in constant back and joint pain (note that she does suffer from osteoarthritis); she’s tired all the time; she’s struggling with digestive issues. For the past three years, she’s had to buy a new set of clothing to accommodate her growing size. This summer, she said to me, “I just–I can’t do this to myself anymore.”
And for the most part, since I, too, once found myself so far from where I ever thought I could end up—the corner of 268 pounds and 20 years old—I get it. I won’t pretend to fully understand what it’s like to be 57-years-old and 210 pounds and married with 5 children, a dog, and 2 jobs, just as I’d never want to pretend to know how you, out there, are experiencing life. Acting as if I know the uniqueness of her particular situation would be naïve and, worse, patronizing. What I can do, though, is be compassionate, and loving, and kind. I can empathize with the struggle because I know it well. I don’t know her struggle—or at least, I don’t own it, can’t fight it for her—but I know the struggle as it exists in a greater sense; I know the sensation of hopelessness as it pertains to weight loss and if I can spare her anything in her journey, I hope it’s that.
The interesting thing about this journey I’m going to take with my mom—before I head off to Hell, anyway—is that I can share it here, with all of you. And, magically, Mom’s OK with that. The very idea to blog about it was hers. Her weight, her age, her photos, every last detail she’s signed off on with a blessing. “Francie, put it out there,” she told me.
It’s crucial to note that I’m not certified to be dispensing medical or nutritional advice. My only credential—all I can offer—is my own experience. Mom acknowledges that, and still, she feels comfortable with me as her guide. It’s also important to note that she met with her doctor recently and had a full work-up. Her doctor is now aware that she’s going to be making positive changes towards losing weight. To those of you reading, I ask that you please consult your own physician before beginning any sort of plan, let alone the one I’ll be sharing here for my mom.
The rest of this series will show not only what she’s eating (the plan) and drinking, but also how she’s handling all of the changes, physically and emotionally. She’s simply the most wonderful, generous, and vivid person, and I’m hopeful we’ll get her voice on here weekly for a check-in. You can trust that she’s as honest and outspoken as I am. Stay tuned.
So here we go. I’ve devised a [reasonable, livable, lovable] plan. She’s on it and we’re full steam ahead.