Makin’ Food My Bitch


January 2017: Week One: Cut dairy out of my life. I’ve bagged up all the butter, gorgonzola, parmesan, Asiago, and cream cheese. I gave up real cows milk long ago, and now I’ve given up the “just a little half & half” in my coffee and switched to tea. No mac & cheese, no grilled cheese, no more bagel with a schmear. I’m giving myself a full year to get things right (and figure out what dinner will look like when I give up my go-to popcorn-is-a-vegetarian-meal stance), but the goal is to come off all my medications. And I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this coming year I’m going to want to be in fighting shape.

I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with food. I know, how surprising, a single middle-aged Jewish cat lady with food issues.

My family was a Jewish/Italian mixed breed, meaning we were Jews who married Italians, so anything that happened in anyone’s house happened around the kitchen table. The good, the bad, and the casseroles with canned fried onions on top.

Despite always being worried I will not have enough food (Depression-era parents), that I will go hungry, I have never gone hungry a day in my life. For us, food was love. If we didn’t offer you food, we didn’t love you. If you didn’t take it, you didn’t love us. Maybe it’s not complicated after all. I eat my feelings.

I never thought I had food issues, I’ve been happy to eat the same thing, every night, night after night. If there is a box of doughnuts in the house, I’m happy to eat them, all. One at a time. If there is only one doughnut in the house, I’m equally happy.

I’ve been a vegetarian, a vegan, a pescatarian, and a locavore. For years I was off beef, but ate poultry. Turkey burgers were a softer, kinder world. But, the more I knew the less I would eat: I stopped eating any factory farmed foods at all. Until I craved salted meat and ate it like it was the air I needed to breathe.

I eat secretly, refusing chocolate or bread in your presence then stuffing myself in my car when I leave. Sometimes the decisions were based on health choices, sometimes on moral issues, other times, childhood issues (that’s the complicated part, best left for another time).

I was a junkie AND a vegetarian for a short while.
There was a suicidal eating disorder that consisted solely of Cheese Doodles and Guldenbergs Peanut Chews. Another that consisted of only soup and ice cream.

I fasted.
I cleansed.
There were literally years when I ate the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Three Stoned Wheat Thin crackers, two slices of Kraft American Cheese – appropriately placed to completely cover the crackers, with no overlap, no blank spaces, and no leftover cheese – and a glass of diet iced tea. Also, gallons of wine, vodka, Kahlua, etc., but not even a single bar peanut to eat.

When I was premenstrual I craved raw meat, which I’d season to make hamburgers, but easily half never made it past my mouth to the frying pan.

I am probably lactose intolerant. Cheese is my favorite thing in the world. The night I ate the cheese equivalent of a human foot (or a shoebox, if that visual disturbs you) and wound up doubled over in the bathroom for hours is when I had to finally accept this lactose intolerance thing. What my version of acceptance looks like: I take pills and continue to eat shoeboxes full of cheese.

I am probably gluten intolerant as well, and have a deep and loving relationship with all things bread and bread like (with the single exception of the body of Christ cracker), from muffins and rolls to bagels and bialys, matzoh and arepas; from fresh warm bread from the oven to packaged off the shelf grocery store bread; and challah, scones, corn bread, noodles, waffles, pancakes, toast, English muffins, Italian bread, French bread, focaccia, crackers, Naan, sourdough, rye, pumpernickel, biscuits, dumplings, pita, pretzels, the leftover pizza crust you don’t want, croissants, or brioche, to the pièce de résistance – the thing you make from leftover bread (as if) –bread pudding. Me and bread, we have history.

Family and friends have gone out of their way to accommodate my various food jaunts by providing a seafood option, buying humanely raised poultry, or asking me each time, “Are you still not eating (fill in the blank)?”

I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds, gone from a size 8 (hospitalized shortly afterward) to a size 16 and bounced around in between.

I have gone from a woman who made her living showing off her body to one who cannot tie her shoes without unzipping her pants.

And now, at almost 60 years old, I’m taking another food stance. Auto-immunes are the original clusterfuck. Like nuns, if you see one, there are probably more lurking around. Recently, I was diagnosed with my second auto-immune disorder. One medication was recommended, and another for a pre-diabetic condition which I’ve had for years and years. Taking the new meds would mean changing the old meds and starting from scratch on things I knew worked. Someone said the word biologics. Biologics are good stock investments, but I don’t want them in my body.

This all makes me sound sick, which I’m not. I’m…fat & sassy. But, my morning regime is a healthy handful of pills and I just can’t anymore. I can’t go forward with the mindset that my body is betraying me. Granted, I was not exactly kind to this body for its first thirty-five years and it has every right to be pissed off, but this all smacks of treason.

I won’t view my body as an enemy.

I met a traveler once, named Elijah. He told me he walked all over the country, slept outdoors, and never got sick or cold. The secret, he said, was that the earth gives you what you need for where you were. The way root vegetables are fall harvests, and they digest slowly and keep you warm. Citrus in Florida where it’s hot, to cool you down. Eat with the place and season, he said. Elijah was barefoot, dirty, with matted hair, he had no shirt and his pants had eroded down to little more than a denim loincloth. I get it. I know he was a homeless guy. And possibly crazy. Or maybe he was just free, because it made sense to me.

Healing yourself by eating the right foods at the right place and time.

The Auto Immune Protocol diet claims to be the key to getting your body back on track, and there are a million websites you can check out if you’re interested in learning more. It’s extreme, but I’ve done tougher stuff in my life (see earlier reference to the first thirty-five years). If I could live off of nine crackers a day with the military discipline with which I did it, I can do this.

The plan is to give myself one to two weeks on each “give up” to get used to it, have a proper mourning period (this week we are mourning the gorgonzola, but glorying in bread) and get myself ready for the next step. All of these will have to go before I can live a full 30 days “clean” and attempt to bring things back a little at a time. So, no gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, or alcohol. No nightshade vegetables like peppers, eggplants or tomatoes. Eggs, gone. Artificial sweeteners will be history (goodbye Crystal Light!). Nuts and seeds, although what is the point of a sesame seed if it is not sitting atop a bagel? No additives, which will mean reading labels. I’ve already eliminated the booze. Eventually, I will get myself down to the basics: meats and vegetables.

The good news is sugar snap peas, wild caught fish, bacon, asparagus, beets, sweet (but not white) potatoes, fruit, meats of all kinds, avocados. It means planning and thinking ahead and no more dollar pizza. But you did hear me say bacon, right?

Knees (and my vagina)

My knees are shot. Partly because they’re supporting 200+ pounds of not very graceful, but mostly because I fall down a lot. There’s nothing wrong with my equilibrium––I just don’t pay attention. I’m looking here and there, look a bird! Trying to stay present, in the moment, look at my surroundings, what would make a good photograph, what can I see that no one else sees. Lots of things. I see lots of things that no one else sees, I also miss a lot of the things most people see. Like potholes:

That time I stepped into one so deep on Bleecker Street that my entire foot got stuck and the rest of my body kept going. I lay there, while people stepped over me.One woman leaned down, “You know, there’s a bench right over there you can sleep on.” I hobbled home.

That time I tripped on a tiny crack on the sidewalk went down on my knees and came up with what was obviously a broken wrist.

That time I was speeding through Central Park on rollerblades and remembered that I really hadn’t learned how to slow down or stop so I just threw myself down on the ground.

That time there was a giant flying waterbug in the house––the only living thing I’m really afraid of––and I lunged at it, landing on my knees.

I keep two bags of frozen peas in my freezer for my knees. They are scarred and bumpy and there is a little blue spot on one where a small pebble is still embedded. They are always skinned, or scabbed, or under a bag of frozen peas.

I have not been able to squat down to get something or say hi to a child or more likely to happen, to a dog, in years. Actually, I can squat, I just can’t get back up. That sent me to physical therapy years ago, the not being able to squat and talk to dogs. I talk to a lot of dogs. A lot of dogs. The physical therapy didn’t do much, so I learned to just plop my not inconsequential ass on the ground to talk to dogs, which is a pretty vulnerable position if the dog in question is: unfriendly, rambunctious, a slobberer.

A few months ago one (knee, not dog) swelled up like a cantaloupe, even though I hadn’t fallen in at least two weeks. Convinced I had kneecap cancer, I went to my osteo man to check it out. That’s how often I fall. I have an osteo man. His assistant moved my legs and knees this way and that, twisting, knocking, bending until he finally stood up and said, “Wow, you have a really shitty knees.” My big-sports-medicine radio-show osteo-man-to-the-stars came in, did the same bending, knocking, and twisting, albeit in slightly different order, sat back and said, “Well, you have really shitty knees.” The X-rays tech refrained from the descriptor “shitty” and simply commented under her breath, “Oh, wow. Those are bad.” The MRI technician insisted on taking more images than originally ordered, because, “It’s bad, and it keeps going up your thigh.”

“It” turned out to be osteonecrosis, something that occurs when the blood can’t get to the bone, and so the bone (osteo) starts to die (necrosis), and apparently it’s kinda uncommon. It can be caused by: excessive alcohol consumption – check; high doses and extended use of steroids – check; and repeated trauma to the area – double triple check.

The choices are surgery––no thank you, or the non-surgical answers are building up the muscles in my thighs so that my knees aren’t doing all the work, and reduction in weight bearing, by which we mean, why the hell am I asking my knees to lug around 200+ pounds? Wouldn’t they be happier dragging around 150 pounds? Wouldn’t the dogs be happier?

I Am Bread

I had entirely forgotten that my bloodwork had come back as “borderline diabetic.” Forgotten like I never even knew. Diabetes? You have to be fucking kidding me. I’ve beat tougher things than an insulin imbalance.

Severe ulcerative colitis. Tonsilitis. Hepatitis. Lots of itises. Some I’m sure I’m forgetting. One broken nose, two broken wrists, countless broken dreams. Junior high school. School lunchrooms. Processed cheese product. Canned string beans. Bad haircuts. Questionable dye jobs. Questionable men. Bad men. No men. Too much money. Not enough money. Twenty dental extractions. One abortion. Three miscarriages. Countless near misses. More one-night stands than there are weeks in the year. My parent’s bad marriage. My not exactly legal, but still exactly lousy marriage. Four attempts on my life.

I’ve had a gun to my head. A knife to my ribs. Amoeba tried to eat my liver. There was Drugs. Booze. One sociopath. Four car accidents. Two motorcycle accidents.

I jumped off a cliff and out of an airplane. Flew without an engine. Slept in Washington Square Park in NYC. Slept in Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans. Slept…around

Food poisoning. Alcohol poisoning. Jealous girlfriends. Suspicious wives.

Cat scratch fever. Heartbreaks. Psychotic breaks. Family therapy. Ten different therapists

I’ve been mugged, kidnapped, raped. There was one stalker.

I made it through the public school curriculum. The. Campfire. Girls. Puberty. Suburbia. Summer camp. Yiddish. Cultural. School. Gym class. Frosted eye shadow. Community college. AM radio

The East Village in the 70s and the entertainment “biz” in the 80s. Four different apartments in 3 ½ boroughs of NYC.  Two in which the ceilings collapsed. The NYC subway system. The blackout of 2003. The transit strike of 2005. The blizzard of 2010. The great cockroach debacle of 1979

Both hurricanes Sandy and Gloria. That Portuguese man of war. The UnderToad.

Thirty-five years of cigarette smoking. Twenty-two years of drugs and booze. Nembutals. Seconals. Tuinals. Quaaludes. Crystal Meth. Crank. Heroin. Cocaine. Yukon Jack. Vodka. Halcyon. Elavil. Valium. More vodka. Gin. Tequila. Frangelica. Harveys Bristol Creme. Beer. Wine. Boilermakers. Pretty much anything that could be snorted, shot, or put in a glass and poured down my throat.

Driving while intoxicated. Driving while very intoxicated. Driving in a blackout on the Long Island Expressway. Flying without an engine. Trying to fly without a plane. Or wings. Or feathers.

Every single hair color found in nature and many that are not. A beauty school perm.

The rollerblade craze. The disco era. Platform shoes. Spiked heels and potholes.The Hells Angels. The Hellfire club. Plato’s retreat. The Continental Baths.

The monsters. In my closet. Under my bed. Behind the shower curtain. In my head. That speak with my own voice.

Measles. Mumps. Chicken pox. Three bouts of strep throat. Gonorrhea. Trichomonas. Insomnia. Lethargy. Apathy. OCD. Frozen thumb. Osteonecrosis

Lust. Gluttony. Greed. Laziness (I know it’s supposed to be Sloth, but I like sloths and I don’t want them to get a bad rap). Wrath. Envy. Pride. Shame.

And menopause.

So, this week, instead of buying bread, I bought English muffins.
Next time, flat bread.
Time after that, maybe Zweiback crackers.
Baby steps. One step at a time.

In steel-toed boots.




New Fat / Old Age



I have fat in places I used to have angles. Like my back. I have back fat. And my collarbones have faded into something soft and rolling. I used to say those were my two best features. I was the kind of girl who looked good in backless dresses, showing off my shoulders and collarbone.

My hips were always “too big” – baby making hips although I never wanted babies. And my thighs were thick before that was a good thing. I could tell the size of my ass by the color of the cat callers on the street. Brown, I was just right. Black, I’d put on some pounds. White meant I was seriously underweight. I hardly every got white cat calls. I always had me some serious ass.

A friend had told me the trick was to wear it loose where you were fat and tight where you weren’t. And I would drape the bottom half of me in something flowing, show off the top of me in something snug. My small breasts, gently curving back, strong shoulders and collarbones you could hold a golfball in comfortably.

Until the day I turned around in front of the mirror for some reason and there it was. Back fat. If I was a domestic pig, you could call it fat back and fry me up with some collards.

My therapist gave me a prescription for my usual antidepressants and a note that read: exercise, low carbohydrate diet, practice portion control. This is not about portion control. This is not about control. It’s about being out of control. This is how I’m dealing with stress.

“Don’t use that as an excuse,” my mother says.

It’s not an excuse. It’s a fact. This is a coping mechanism, albeit not the best, its better than many I’ve used in the past. This is about denial. About having to be in control in so many areas of your life, including your brain, keeping everything running, on track, voices down to a low hum, that there has to be someplace to give up control, go wild, not have to be in charge. When I was what anyone else would call “running wild” the drugs and alcohol were the place I could let go, not be in control, relax. I’ve had to be in charge my entire life. To save my mother. To save myself.  To defend my father and save him from his fantasies. I had to be in control or he would have destroyed me. And think again if you don’t think that juggling a life of drugs, sex, mobsters, guns and petty crime is not about control. If you want to stay alive it is. It sure is. Ask all of those people who didn’t control. Yeah, you can’t. They’re dead. I’m not.

Imagine your body, your life is a house. Denial is like a burglar alarm system. It keeps the bad things out. I don’t know how to set it for one part of my life and not for another. So, denial about my eating and my weight––because I know you can look at me and say how can she be in denial. Her stomach pours over her pants, it looks painful. It is. But if I can keep that at bay, then also at bay are the feelings around what’s going on with my mother, her aging, her forgetting, getting smaller, more fearful. The feelings about being alone after she’s gone. The feelings about being alone. The feelings. The fat, and the denial that goes with it, because yes, I can acknowledge I’m fat and still be in denial, much in the way I knew I was an alcoholic, I just didn’t see how that was a problem, are keeping me a sane today.

This is not about portion control. Or excuses. This is about being 25 years clean and sober and not yet having developed a coping mechanism that works. Those old survival skills kick in and they’re comforting. After the drugs, was the promiscuous sex, the spending, the working out. To control the things that need to be controlled, to run the ship properly, I need to have a place I can lose myself, let go. Right now, that is the eating.

Crossing Lines


The thing about drawing lines in the sand, limiting yourself, naming those things you will never do, that you’ll know it’s bad when…the thing is they’re lines in the sand. The wind blows and they get harder to see, you cross them without realizing and then you simply draw another line. I did that with drugs: I was never going to do heroin. I was really self-righteous about it too, until one day, thinking it was something else I snorted it and discovered I loved it. And just like that the line moved. It moved so far I couldn’t see it anymore.

When I went from a size 10 to a 12, I was simply not going to let myself get up to a size 14. When I was at size 14, 16 was the thing that would never happen. My 16s are tight on me. Size 18 is unthinkable. But I keep crossing lines, erasing them, stepping over them. I’m trying not to cross this line. I’m trying to take a few steps back as a matter of fact.

I joined a gym. It’s seven blocks away from me. I have to pass it on my way home from work. It was only $15 a month AND my job will reimburse me for that $15. I didn’t go, so I cancelled the membership.

I bought a FitBit and started walking, at least 10,000 steps a day. The battery died. Twice. I stopped wearing the FitBit, and without that thing on my wrist egging me on and nagging me, I put my sneakers and my feet on the shelf and went back to subways, buses, and automobiles.

I gave up bread. Okay, to be more accurate I didn’t eat bread for one week.

I gave up Half & Half in my tea. That’s pretty much all I’ve been able to stick with. Most of the time.

Lines in the sand are so easy to cross. I need a wall. A brick wall. A brick wall that’s smarter than me, that I can’t climb or find a way around. I’m a woman of extremes and when I was younger I thought of joining the army because I figured bootcamp would get me in shape. The U.S. Army would be my brick wall.

So, lines in the sand. They’re so easy to cross. You. You’re my new line. Public. Exposed. Almost naked. As truthful as I can be. This is a line I cannot help but see because everyone else can see it too. Up or down, everything I do goes on my permanent record.