From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Spaghetti Head

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.

Marcus Aurelius

The sauce sat simmering for eight hours, mingling the flavors of beef, tomatoes, garlic, onions, green peppers, bay leaf and other spices. I added mushrooms and pronounced it done.

“Good,” replied my young husband, “I’m starved.”

The pasta was cooked al dente, so I drained it, piled it on a plate and ladled the sauce on top. Then I carried it to him, looked at his slim features . . . and DUMPED IT ON HIS HEAD. Immediately I burst into tears.

“Okay, you’re done with this diet,” he calmly told me with sauce dripping from his nose. He began to wipe up the mess and carry it back to the kitchen. “Call the doctor in the morning and tell him, ‘No more.’”

Why would I do such a thing? Because I was starving. Literally. I was on a zero-calorie diet after I began to maintain weight on 350 calories a day. It was the 1960s and the doctor was experimenting with me. He plied me with Dexedrine to keep me going and it worked. I bounded out of bed in the middle of the night to clean closets or scrub the bathroom with great energy and intensity. Most of the time I forgot how hungry I was. But the spaghetti sauce was an old family recipe, and its aroma permeated every inch of our small house. It triggered more than just hunger—it set up a longing to be able to eat normally and a fury at those who could without adding any pounds.

Through the ensuing years I tried every diet that came along, joining thousands of others who struggle to be thin. The rice diet, grapefruit diet, liquid diet, high-fiber diet, cabbage soup diet, even the apples-only diet accompanied by an injection of urine from pregnant sheep—whatever was popular. They all worked for awhile. I just couldn’t stick to them. As soon as I returned to eating what the “normal” people around me were eating, I rapidly gained the lost weight back, plus more. Why? Those starvation diets taught my body to store food for the future since it couldn’t trust me to provide regular stable nutrition.

Finally, I reached the age when being thin for looks wasn’t as important as my health and mobility. I was losing both and realized I needed an eating plan, not another diet. So I gathered my knowledge of diets, which was enormous by this time, and listed what worked best for me. Never get hungry. Keep plenty of healthy snacks like veggies and nuts on hand. Eat small portions more often. Enjoy fruit and simple starches in moderation. Stay away from sugars and high-starch foods. If I just HAVE to have a piece of candy or pie or cake, some macaroni and cheese or ice cream, then I have a little bit of it, savor it without guilt and go back to my new way of eating. The addition of moderate exercise and seven to eight hours of sleep each night makes my plan more successful and I’m working on both.

Am I thin? Definitely not, and I probably never will be. But I’m healthier. My tests come back from the lab with all the “right” numbers listed, pleasing my doctor. I finally enjoy my own kind of “normal.” And guess what that includes? Eating an occasional plate of family-favorite spaghetti with my husband.

Jean Stewart

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