I was in my mid-30s when I realized that many people started the day with things like oatmeal, bacon, eggs, and toast. Corn Flakes were not part of my mother’s breakfast lexicon. As a kid, I thought everyone ate Entenmann’s Rich Frosted Donuts or Drake's Devil Dogs with Pepsi in the morning. We used to tease my mom that if she ever stopped drinking Pepsi, the company would go out of business.
My mother was 19 when she had me—a baby being raised by another child with emotional issues, who used food to self-medicate. Like me, she was born in New York, a city that perpetually scared her—she didn’t like to go out at night alone and never appreciated such an eclectic, diverse place.
My weight-conscious family saw each other regularly—we lived in the same building in the Bronx with my grandparents, an aunt, and two uncles. In an attempt to create the svelte waistline they coveted, my mother and grandmother went to Weight Watchers on Wednesdays, stopping at the Dunkin’ Donuts right next door to the meeting, figuring they had the rest of the week to burn the calories off. Although we are mostly Irish, almost every family gathering centered on a vat of spaghetti with meatballs, and Italian bread with an inch of butter. Discussions always started with who had seen whom and how much weight they had lost or gained.
Every fad diet entered my life at some point. The cabbage soup diet. Ayds diet candy. (We ate those like a box of Godiva chocolates.) Alba 77 shakes (the precursor to Slim-Fast). All of these were followed by a late-night pizza if their immediate promise of a slim new figure was not achieved in mere hours.
My father was born in Ireland and didn’t hesitate to move to that country when he retired. I was 11; my mother was just 30. She settled there like a native, drank tea, and learned to drive on narrow roads in the dark. But it didn’t help her emotional problems or the abuse of bad food. By 47, she needed a quadruple bypass and became diabetic. She watched every program about weight loss, especially Oprah, but couldn’t apply what she learned. I know now it was from lack of self-love.
I’ve been svelte, and I’ve been called a “fat ass” from a passing car, and I’ve been every weight in between. I was endlessly confused about food until I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the same disease that cost my mother her health, her eyesight, a toe, and eventually her life. She was 57.
At first, I resorted to my mother’s old trick of devouring whatever sugary madness pleased me right after my blood test. Then I realized that the only person I was cheating was myself. I began eating clean and learning recipes that replaced sugar with healthier alternatives. Almond and coconut flour became my new best friends. I spiraled squash into “spaghetti” and used cabbage leaves like tortillas. I never waited for the bus anymore; I walked to and from the subway station. I still enjoyed the occasional comfort food sandwich I learned from my grandmother, but with lower blood sugar and weight loss, I had new energy and my clothes fit better.
Truthfully, my mother did teach me about food. I understand that she used food to medicate herself from emotional issues. I learned to appreciate the curves of my feminine body, never hid my size like she did or let weight hinder me from doing the things I wanted to do. My mother let her weight and her perception of what she looked like stop her from doing and feeling everything. It saddens me that she did not enjoy her life more without the words “I am fat” playing in her head constantly. She allowed food to be the only thing that made her feel for a short time. I wish she hadn’t made herself the example of what not to do.
Anna Tierney is a writer, life and career coach, and executive coordinator in the financial services industry in New York City. She contributes to Visible Ink, a writing program through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and is currently editing her comedy screenplay, “What the Hell?”
Nanny’s Bacon and Banana Sandwiches
4 slices bacon
2 slices of bread (country white or French bread)
1 medium banana
1 T. butter
Fry bacon until crisp.
Toast bread until golden brown.
Spread butter on one side of each piece of toast.
Mash banana onto one slice of toast.
Top with bacon and the other slice of toast.