Home > Composition Book > [March, 1989] Diet is a Four-Letter Word

[March, 1989] Diet is a Four-Letter Word

3/25/89

Dear Journal,

It is “Spring Break”! This is great! 11 days of no homework and freedom. I am on a diet.

Art by DoA

Art by DoA

The aforementioned freedom clearly did not extend to the fridge and food cupboards.

I went on my first diet when I was ten years old. My mother had recently lost 80 pounds, and along with a sensible diet and consistent exercise, she credited a tea she drank in helping her lose the weight. It was made by a company called Sunrider and claimed to help cleanse the system and rid the body of fat and toxins.

At ten years old, I only needed to lose five pounds. Athletics weren’t my thing, and I was more likely to spend hours reading than running around outside. In terms of diet, mine wasn’t the healthiest. Russian cuisine involves big portions and lots of meats, starches, and other creamy/heavy foods (have you ever had Chicken Kiev? It’s a piece of breaded chicken that has been wrapped around a stick of butter). While Mom was eating more salads, Dad still made sure we had plenty of salami, bagels, and calorie-heavy Russian foods on hand. And let’s not forget those occasional trips to Beefsteak Charlie’s and McDonald’s.

Genetically, I come from hearty Eastern European stock and by age ten, I had a bit of baby fat. I saw Mom had shed her grownup fat drinking the Sunrider tea, so I decided to try it myself. And the following year, when I gained back the few pounds I shed, I decided to give it another go.

Let’s talk about this Sunrider tea. It came in giant canisters in powder form that Mom ordered over the phone. It was easy enough to make once you knew the tea-water ratio, but drinking the stuff is another story. Imagine unsweetened iced tea that’s been brewed with a bunch of sweaty socks and a few heaping spoonfuls of dirt, to give it a distinct gritty aftertaste. That’s about how terrible this tea tasted. Adding sugar defeated the point of its dietary effects though it was slightly less bitter warm than it was cold. Drinking about two quarts a day was necessary in order to reap the full weight loss benefits.

Why would anybody drink such a horrible concoction, you ask? Because you could still eat pretty much what you want and it would help you lose weight. Aren’t those the best diets of all?

I probably chose spring break so that I wouldn’t have to lug giant plastic containers of gross tea to school with me. Drinking the bulk of the tea by mid-day was recommended, so I’d take sips during class and peed at least once an hour. I also probably grimaced the entire time I drank the stuff, so it was easier to make faces and take frequent bathroom breaks in the privacy of my own home.

Dieting at such a young age was not a good idea, especially since when the tea was gone, the weight eventually came back on, but I was none the wiser on proper fitness and nutrition. Of course it was less about nourishment and more about body image and looking a certain way. I was told at a very early age that being heavy would make life harder for me, so I struggled against it. I still struggle. That Sunrider tea was just the beginning.

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  1. October 5, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    You have written a very good article. I totally agree with everything I read. It’s good to read an article about weight loss that is just common sense.

  2. Liz
    October 5, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    I went on my first diet at age 9 or 10 as well, but not really by choice. Our pediatrician told my mom that I was overweight (he might have even said I had a possibility of becoming obese), and gave her a sheet of dubious guidelines that probably forbade thinks like whole milk, butter, and sugar, but encouraged unhindered consumption of ingredients like margarine and aspartame. Mom was skeptical, and I don’t think we stayed with that diet plan (or that doctor) too long.
    In high school, I continued to be very self-conscious, especially when I saw other girls (who may or may not have had eating disorders) who looked the way I wished I did. I went on Weight Watchers with my dad when I was 15: he lost about 30 lbs, I lost about 10. Over the years, I gained them back. I went through phases of thinking that wearing baggy clothes would make me look thin, and later wearing clothes that were too tight/small/short, thinking those would be flattering (neither of those hypotheses proved true!).
    Looking back at photos of myself, I wasn’t fat. As a kid, I had a little baby fat, and was always in the 75 percentile for both weight and height, but there was no excuse for that doctor to give me a self-consciousness that persisted, on and off, for at least 10 to 15 years. I still struggle with weight sometimes, and need to lose some, but I feel lucky that it didn’t take TOO long for me to learn that a) the number of pounds says nothing about how healthy you are for your body type/bone density/chest size! b) the charts at the doc’s office are based on recommendations from the American Heart Association and MetLife, which are inherent UNDERestimates oriented more around insurance and profit margins, instead of average bodies and c) looking and feeling happy and healthy is more important than whatever anyone else says.
    I concentrate more on eating a balanced diet, and get worried about friends of mine who go on the Master Cleanse, “ballerina tea” (read: anorexia tea?), and other quick-fix diets with long-term health consequences. I could certainly stand to exercise more, and would probably lose more weight if I were willing to make some more major life changes. Then again, the truth is, I’m fine with being a little chubby if it means I can be happy (read: eat dessert!).
    Okay, sorry for turning this into a personal essay!

    • damiella
      October 6, 2009 at 3:36 pm

      Thank you for sharing your own body image experiences. I wish there weren’t so many women out there feeling bad about the way they look. It seems like people go to extremes by eating nothing but junk or nothing but extreme diets, without realizing that there’s a middle ground that allows for healthy foods as well as treats. It took me nearly 30 years to figure out how to strike that balance. And to make peace with the fact that I will never be a waif and would have to go to extreme and unhealthy lengths in order to be one, but that I am generally happier when I take care of my body by eating well and exercising.

  3. Liz
    October 6, 2009 at 4:49 am

    I went on my first diet at age 9 or 10 as well, but not really by choice. Our pediatrician told my mom that I was overweight (he might have even said I had a possibility of becoming obese), and gave her a sheet of dubious guidelines that probably forbade thinks like whole milk, butter, and sugar, but encouraged unhindered consumption of ingredients like margarine and aspartame. Mom was skeptical, and I don’t think we stayed with that diet plan (or that doctor) too long.
    In high school, I continued to be very self-conscious, especially when I saw other girls (who may or may not have had eating disorders) who looked the way I wished I did. I went on Weight Watchers with my dad when I was 15: he lost about 30 lbs, I lost about 10. Over the years, I gained them back. I went through phases of thinking that wearing baggy clothes would make me look thin, and later wearing clothes that were too tight/small/short, thinking those would be flattering (neither of those hypotheses proved true!).
    Looking back at photos of myself, I wasn’t fat. As a kid, I had a little baby fat, and was always in the 75 percentile for both weight and height, but there was no excuse for that doctor to give me a self-consciousness that persisted, on and off, for at least 10 to 15 years. I still struggle with weight sometimes, and need to lose some, but I feel lucky that it didn’t take TOO long for me to learn that a) the number of pounds says nothing about how healthy you are for your body type/bone density/chest size! b) the charts at the doc’s office are based on recommendations from the American Heart Association and MetLife, which are inherent UNDERestimates oriented more around insurance and profit margins, instead of average bodies and c) looking and feeling happy and healthy is more important than whatever anyone else says.
    I concentrate more on eating a balanced diet, and get worried about friends of mine who go on the Master Cleanse, “ballerina tea” (read: anorexia tea?), and other quick-fix diets with long-term health consequences. I could certainly stand to exercise more, and would probably lose more weight if I were willing to make some more major life changes. Then again, the truth is, I’m fine with being a little chubby if it means I can be happy (read: eat dessert!).
    Okay, sorry for turning this into a personal essay!
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

  4. Liz
    October 7, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Yep! At some point in my teens, Dad said to me, “Don’t you realize you’re never gonna be a skinny malink?!” (his term for very thin women). At the time it was off-putting, but not too long afterwards I realized it was kind of liberating. He was right! It’s not that I wasn’t trying hard enough, just that this is the body I was born with, and it can’t defy the laws of nature. 🙂 All I could strive for was to be the best/healthiest ME I could be. That was a load off my shoulders. 🙂
    I’ve been interested in body image for a long time, and have a couple of books on it around here somewhere…

  1. December 10, 2009 at 10:22 am
  2. March 15, 2010 at 12:03 pm

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