My sister and I have meatball grandma bodies. We’re both about five feet tall (as I always remind her, at 4’11” she’s not even five feet tall, whereas I hover around 5’1”) and heavy breasted, which gives us the illusion of roundness from certain angles. Our grandmother (born in 1918) was of the first generation who actively and persistently sought the svelte (but still curvy) figures of the Hollywood stars with restrictive rubber girdles and pointy bullet bras, flocking to Jean Nidetch’s fledgling Weight Watchers diet program in the 1960s. I always remember my grandmother fighting with her weight, but she never really fit the meatball mold. On the other hand, both her mother and her mother-in-law – great-grandmothers I was fortunate to know as a child – were on the more short-and-round side. Unfortunately, my sister’s and my physiques seem to have skipped a couple of generations. (Our mother, by our standards, was an Amazon at 5’6″ and always called us her “peanuts” when she stood next to us.)
When I lived with my mother after my divorce in 1998, between jobs and with an angry three-year-old who didn’t quite understand why Daddy didn’t live with us anymore (one time, she literally took a sharpie and wrote “NO” on various appliances and walls, although we never got a straight answer as to why), I was on a self-improvement mission. My sister had just gotten married and lived a few towns away. So we decided to take a step class at the Lucille Roberts halfway between our houses. Our instructor was this beast of a girl (Cheryl? Sharon? Karen?), who was solid and tight, with thick thighs and a high butt. We tried so hard to follow her! Neither of us has been blessed with the dancing gene (although I like to think I have a decent sense of rhythm, I don’t always know what to do with my arms). But we ended up, after a few weeks, being the confident ones who stood in front of the class, in full view of Cheryl/Sharon/Karen’s rock-hard derriere. I can’t remember why we stopped going, but of course we did. All of our fitness regimes (I’ve had many, my sister fewer – her roundness developed later than mine) eventually sputter out and die.
I’ve been though at least a dozen different diet or weight loss or lifestyle change programs, and I’ve been some degree of successful using each one. I stuck with some longer than others, and for a few weeks, if not months, I wouldn’t feel like I was struggling or deprived, and the pounds – slowly but surely – would come off.
But then, something happens. It’s always a different something (often, but not always, readily available holiday goodies starting around Halloween and extending through New Year’s), but the result is always the same: falling off the wagon, eating uncontrollably, abandoning my exercise programs and packing on the pounds. Most recently, my sister and I tried to be each other’s support system, texting each other at the end of the day with how many calories we’d eaten and how many steps we’d walked. It was a good way to stay in touch with my sister, too, who doesn’t live very far from me but we don’t get together as often as I’d like. She’s going through some major life changes of her own, and diet and exercise aren’t high on her list of priorities, even though she knows (we BOTH know) that when you’re exercising and eating right, you actually feel BETTER. Unfortunately, we always fall victim to the opposite approach: the only thing that we think will make us feel “better” when we’re struggling and sad is comfort food and couch surfing.
Not sure where to go from here. They say it gets harder to lose weight and maintain fitness the older you are, and frankly, I’m older than I’ve ever been (and also fatter). I’ve also come to the conclusion that I can’t (or won’t) give up those food items I love, like peanut butter, and ice cream, and pizza, and bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches – the list goes on and on. So the way I see it, I have two options if I don’t want to be forever disgusted to look at myself in a mirror: (1) Exercise on a regular basis, not just walking but perhaps getting back to a step or other aerobics class? Perhaps I can do it from home? If I just woke up an hour earlier every day, I could squeeze in some fat-burning activity. At a minimum, I need to keep up with the steps – at least 7,500 a day would be ideal. (2) Eat what I want, but eat way, way less of it. No more obsessive binging, like polishing off a bag of Reese’s miniatures in a single night, returning again and again to the fridge where I kept the bag in a drawer (ineffectually trying to hide it from myself or at least make it more work to get to), grabbing two or three at a time, berating myself with every return visit. Denying myself the foods I love – milk chocolate, cookies, the occasional giant blueberry muffin, peanut butter parfait Nips – would be like denying life itself. But I seriously need to develop better self-control.
Hopefully my sister and I can continue to encourage each other in our pursuit of fitness, and maybe, if we’re diligent, by the summer we can look more like frankfurters than meatballs (or at least cocktail weenies – nothing to be done about the shortness, I’m afraid).
Meatball Great-Grandma in the middle, Grandma second from right, Mom third from right. No one could have predicted that the future would hold even more meatballs.