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Request an entry – I was what I ate

It’d be nice to believe that my mind is an endless wellspring of witty insights into the dieting lifestyle, but I got to admit, some days I got nothing. So instead of coming up with something totally original, today I’m going to answer a question Peter asked a little while ago:

I would absolutely love to hear more about the way you grew up, with regards to eating and weight, and what effect you think your family has had.

I guess that technically wasn’t a question since it lacks a question mark at the end, but it’s close enough. I suppose any sentence can become a question if you stick a question mark at the end? (See?) I knew a girl in high school who ended all her sentences with an upward tone when she spoke, so everything sounded like a question. It made me want to strangle her. Maybe the asphyxiation would have made her tone go down at the end.

The weird thing about my family growing up is that my mother was fat, my father was fat, my younger brother was fat, and I was fat, but my older brother was thin! To this day I still have no idea how he managed that. He was eating out of the same fridge as the rest of us, wasn’t he? Maybe I should have checked his closet for a hidden mini-fridge stocked with baby carrots and celery sticks instead of just snooping around his shelves and finding his porn collection. (If you’re going to snoop, be prepared to find out things you don’t want to know! P.S. – If you ever read this, sorry, bro!)

Other than my freakish older brother, I came from a family of fat people. Everyone’s weight fluctuated over the years, but my mom topped out somewhere in the mid-to-low 300’s, as did my dad. My younger brother never got that fat, but did make it to the high 200’s. The ironic thing is that in the past 3 years everyone in my family has lost a lot of weight, except for my older brother who has gained weight as he approaches his 30’s. The universe seeking balance, perhaps?

As for aunts and uncles, my mom is the oldest of 14 kids, so we’ve got a wide sample set of DNA combinations to look at. Most of her sisters and brothers are at least a bit overweight, but among all my cousins’ families I’d say we were the fattest. So I’d guess heredity had a bit to do with my obesity, but lifestyle choices probably had more to do with the extremity it reached. Notably, about five or six of my mom’s siblings have had their gall bladders removed, as have my mom and dad. So while I’m sure my diet played a big part in the fact that I had to have my taken out at age 23, I feel secure blaming a genetic predisposition as well.

As for my eating habits growing up, um, I don’t really know. I think it’s sometimes hard to evaluate how “normal” your eating is because you don’t have anything to compare it to. You might only notice something is off kilter when you visit someone else’s house and realize they do things differently than your family. You need the contrast to realize what the differences are. One weekend when I was about six my parents went away for the weekend and my babysitter had the audacity to sprinkle sugar on our cereal! This was not the way things were done in the PastaQueen household and there was much whining and much cereal poured down the garbage disposal. Sugar and milk just don’t mix well on my flavor palette.

In retrospect there were some eating habits that could have been curbed. Every Sunday as a reward for getting through church we’d stop at the grocery and buy some chocolate covered, crème-filled éclairs. While I didn’t realize it at the time, I probably consumed all the calories I needed in a day when I ate 2 or 3 of those for breakfast. I also got obsessed with making fudge during middle school and if I was hungry for a snack I’d just whip up a batch. There was also a period in high school where I’d eat four slices of whole wheat bread for breakfast. Not toasted, not buttered, just bread. I think these are habits that would have been better discouraged, but I never heard a negative comment about them, as far as I recall. (Confession: I still make a loaf of whole grain bread in my breadmaker on the weekend and eat it way too quickly even though I tell myself I’ll portion it out over the week. Bread is my kryptonite!) Oh, we also drank a lot of soda. Regular, sugar-riddled, soda, which I can probably solely blame these last 50 pounds and at least 12 cavities on.

Also, weight was never a topic discussed or much fretted about in our house. We didn’t even have a bathroom scale. I obviously knew I was fat and that my parents were fat, and I wanted to be thinner, but I was never nagged about it or made to feel bad about it. There could have been more self-awareness about our obesity, but I think the good thing about it was that I never became obsessed with dieting or food. I also typically had good self-esteem because I did well in school and found self-value in my intelligence, not in how I looked. Though judging by pictures of myself from back then, if I’d know how frizzy my hair was and how poorly I dressed, that might have changed. Ignorance really is bliss.

I suppose my parents could have set a better example and cut off some of my worse eating habits. But I don’t blame them because I doubt they really had much of a handle on good eating habits themselves. My mom still finds it difficult to stay on her doctor’s prescribed diet which should ward off her pre-diabetes. Anyway, there was lots of love and laughter and the thought of those éclairs were the only thing that could get me through Sunday mass.

The weird thing about trying to analyze my childhood eating habits is that I don’t know how accurate my memory is. How often did I really make fudge? I have no idea. How frequently did Mom make brownies with us? I wasn’t keeping statistical data on this. Did I really have good self-esteem or do I just think I did? I know there were some really miserable times in middle school. Maybe I’ve blocked out how bad it was or just remember the good things. How much of my life do I actually remember and how accurate are the memories I do have?

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13 Comments

Rosie • August 15, 2006 at 12:25 pm

Hey Pasta Queen, interesting post.

I too am addicted to bread, my mum gave me her old bread maker and I made a loaf yesterday and promptly eat half of it. Its ( looks nervously right and left to see if anyone is looking) better than chocolate.

My mum also has a bread addiction. But she’s 8.5 stone. I think the bread maker being so easy to use, and making such delicious contributed.

We always had healthy food in the house and no food issues. Except my dad told me I was “porky,” lovely adjective there and started off my faddishness.

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galnoir • August 15, 2006 at 1:32 pm

Would you be willing to share your recipe (formula?) for whole wheat bread in a breadmaker? The spouse wants to buy one, and I’ve been hesitant since the last thing I want is a house full of low-fiber, high-starch bread when I’m trying to eat better. But I’d be willing to go for it if I could make my own healthy bread.

Thanks in advance!

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Heather • August 15, 2006 at 5:12 pm

I know what you are talking about with the comparison! I was shocked, I tell you, ordering Chinese food at a friends house once– they got a couple oders and all shared. At my house, each of us girls would get one entree, and the boys would get two. All to ourselves. (Chinese was an $80 proposition)

There were always junk-food snacks in the house (my mom called them “munchies”) and gallons of icecream. It was so hard when I had/was recovering from bulimia.

It’s weird to get used to normal portions/types of food after that always being the way things are done in childhood.

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lynette • August 15, 2006 at 8:56 pm

i am always uncertain how accurate my memories are as well. talking with my sisters, no one would think we grew up in the same house.

my folks were healthy eaters and not heavy, so how the heck did i end up like this? who knows. bottom line, there’s only one fix but sometimes it helps to resolve my feelings and thoughts about the past before getting on the with the solution.

thanks for writing this.

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PastaQueen • August 15, 2006 at 10:33 pm

galnoir – My breadmaker came with a recipe book, so I just use that one. It’s:

1 1/3 cups water

2 tablespoons margarine or butter

3 cups whole wheat flour

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 3/4 teaspoons bread machine yeast

I just dump all that into the breadmaker and let it run. Takes about three and a half hours.

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hopefulloser • August 16, 2006 at 12:59 pm

You have a wonderful personality and seem to have a lot of confidence despite any weight issue, so I believe your fond memories and nice up-bringing.

I agree that your parents rewarding your good grades and not focusing on your food or weight contributed to not being obsessed with food. That is awesome and I bet has a lot to do with the success you’re having now.

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christie • August 16, 2006 at 1:28 pm

Hi there! I just started reading your blog. I’ll have to go through and get caught up but I just love reading it.

LOL at “bread is my kryptonite”. I often feel the same way. Well, carbs in general. Being the ‘pastaqueen’ I guess you understand!

This post has really gotten me thinking, and i believe I’ll have to write one similar soon about my childhood and what affect it has had on my weight and who I am today.

Thanks for sharing!

You have done just wonderfully on your journey.

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Peter • August 16, 2006 at 9:37 pm

Fascinating stuff. I love hearing about other people’s lives, and about four of my favorite five books are memoirs. I grew up thin, with a fat dad, and an extremely thin (still is) older brother. But when he went away to college, the rails came off our household. My mom just didn’t care as much about all that having rules and standards business with her younger child. She knew she knew how to parent by then–or whatever the psychology of children after the first one is.

So–“let’s go on an ice cream run!” I still remember that feeling of, “Yess! There are no rules any more!” Going to get fresh-baked doughnuts at the grocery store nearby just because we felt like it.

Anyway, I formed adolescent habits of staying up extraordinarily late, reading and wandering around and munching, munching, munching. I would certainly have porked up immediately if I hadn’t been growing so rapidly.

So then, when I stopped growing, and came home from college in the summers and had an ever-stocked, always-available refrigerator, I would in fact pack on, at a guess, ten to fifteen pounds per summer.

So again, I would have ballooned if I hadn’t gone and lived in poverty in Europe and walked everywhere as a backpacker for a year, at which point I got down to what is now my goal weight. (BMI of about 21.5-22.0.) Which was a lucky break, since I guess it bought me three or four years.

But if you keep having some sort of hugely bad food habit, eventually you’re going to be obese, like it or not. You’ll stop growing, or stop having intervals of starvation, or whatever. And then you have to confront the tedious reality that it just takes a loooooooooong time to get back to a point where your weight is not an interesting issue any more, to you or anyone else.

On the other hand, there are few things more fun and empowering-feeling than losing weight successfully. So, getting to keep on succeeding at it for a long period of time–and any time you aren’t succeeding, you know what to do, and can basically get back in there and just start succeeding again within a week or so, assuming you have a normal metabolism–is not the worst of all worlds. At least it’s something to do, is sort of the way I feel about it.

Anyway, I’ll bet that if you had grown up with a lot of food-related baggage from your parents, you would find it a lot harder to just straightforwardly diet and lose weight the way you’re finding you can now. So it sounds as if the good your parents did for you, in just being affirming and loving, outweighs whatever harm they did from being clueless about health and weight–not only in terms of The Most Important Things in Life, but even in this specific matter of being able to control your weight, ultimately.

Neat post!

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galnoir • August 16, 2006 at 9:40 pm

Thanks, PQ—instructions copied and saved! :-)

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M. • August 16, 2006 at 10:09 pm

Ooooh.. we can request stuff? Can you debug my php/mqsql code? C’mon I know you wanna! Bah! I have nothing weight related to say, and I’m still in the (CS) lab at 10 p.m. so I figured I’d bug you, haha. Going now…

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not • November 4, 2006 at 10:56 pm

am working way through your fascinating archives, and, not to play armchair psychologist (but I can’t help it, you are like the main character in a book to me!) … Do you think your dad leaving the family played a role in your weight gain? Drugging yourself to soothe the pain?

It seems to me you aren’t “naturally” fat, as the weight seems to come off pretty easy once you regulate your eating. There haven’t been any 10 lb gains along your weight loss journey.

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PastaQueen • November 5, 2006 at 9:20 am

not – I doubt it. Dad left three weeks before I turned 22, at which time was already at least 340-350 pounds. I think I did gain a bit after he left due to the stress, both emotional and financial, but at most we can only blame 20 pounds on him :) Since he’s left me, my mom, my brother and Dad have all lost weight too, so maybe we were all keeping ourselves fat together! (I don’t actually believe that, but it’s a theory.)

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wendy • May 17, 2008 at 4:14 am

Ah bread, my sweet enemy. I come from generation after generation of master bakers. Indeed I worked in the family business myself for a while. There is no bread product I would not devour with passion.

But, and don’t tell my family this, I can’t eat bread without suffering bloating, acid reflux and general sluggishness. Omitting bread from my diet almost immediately improves my health and accelerates my weight loss.

I still yearn for it though!

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog at JennetteFulda.com.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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