Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with 2 comments

Those of us old enough to have been children before television or video or electronic amusement were entertained with nursery rhymes and fairy tales and, of course, Aesop’s fables. The latter always had a moral, not that a three-year-old was able to grasp the concept.

But even children easily learned about the tortoise and the hare, and the moral of sour grapes. What we also learned, but maybe didn’t really understand until we grew up was the concept of the viper in your bosom. Aesop, the slave, told the story of a farmer who kept a snake from freezing to death by warming him inside his coat. When the snake recovered, it bit and killed his benefactor. The moral is obvious.

What might not be so obvious is that your best friend — even your husband — can willingly or unwittingly sabotage all your efforts.

The blandishments always go something like this: It’s Thanksgiving, have just one little piece of pumpkin pie. With whipped cream. It’s a party — have one of these delicious puff pastries filled with cheese. Another slice of roast beef/turkey/meat loaf isn’t going to hurt you. You’re getting too thin anyway. Just one eggnog isn’t going to hurt. Oh, you just don’t like my cooking . . . and on and on it goes.

Most of these comments are made without rancour.

Who wants to believe her husband or her lover is willingly trying to sabotage her efforts? Who wants to face the choice of losing a friend or losing the weight?

The toughest part is to say no. And mean it. If your friends don’t get the message, get new friends. If your husband doesn’t get it, start asking yourself why someone who is supposed to be your most enthusiastic supporter, your biggest fan, doesn’t want you to succeed.

I’m no psychologist, but you need to find out if he’s jealous, worried that you’re getting in shape to leave him, angry that you’re not making all the fattening foods he loves, or just plain resentful and threatened. Now, you have a problem. If he doesn’t understand what you are trying to accomplish, ask yourself why not. A blunt conversation should work.

Sometimes the ones we love the most do us the most damage, although they don’t mean to. And sometimes the ones who do the most damage consider themselves friends.

There’s only one way to combat the saboteurs who are all around: Shut up. Say nothing. Resist the urge to be an evangelist about your new regime.

This has a couple of advantages: If you don’t carry on about your health and fitness plan you will be spared having to listen to others and most importantly, spared their advice. If they want to eat raw garlic or drink something called “pro-biotic” liquids, let them be. You don’t have to buy into anyone else’s eating habits, plans or make-over routine. Indeed for once in your life, this is all about you and nobody else.

I went to an elegant lunch yesterday with a charming guest speaker. Okay the guest speaker was me, but the food was perfect and nobody needed to know I was watching what I ate. Sometimes eating in public is the easiest of all, as comments made on what someone else eats or doesn’t being the height of bad manners.

In public, you’re in control.

Lunch was Alberta beef – the best in the world, notwithstanding Kobe or that sweet stuff from Argentina — and it was prepared no more than medium rare, at least mine was after I swapped the medium slice for a rarer piece.

Usually, when we go out to these things, the meal isn’t worth the calories it represents. It’s deep-fried mystery meat (usually chicken) and some mushy vegetables that have been sitting under a heat lamp, or stewing on a steam table for hours. That’s one of the reasons I usually hate “banquet” type meals — when you’re serving a crowd, you can’t serve meals a la minute, the restaurant term for a meal cooked when it is ordered. And yes, it’s usually expensive.

I remember a chef in Toronto explaining to me how he managed to produce a delicious, low-calorie, low-fat, low-sugar lunch for a diet group’s annual awards banquet. He looked at me, the inquiring reporter, as if I had lost my marbles and said, in one of those fabulous French accents something to the effect of “zut, alors!” (An expression comparable to a mild cuss word but considerably more elegant than “damn” or “hell.”)

He allowed that there was no way to produce anything edible within the restrictions he had been given by the organizers. He had smiled, nodded, agreed, and went ahead and cooked the way he wanted to — albeit without the usual butter and cream sauces, which would have been a dead giveaway.

No one but me — and him and the entire staff of the giant suburban Toronto hotel — was aware of the deception.

Needless to say that lunch was a success, both in terms of the awards given out (most pounds lost in a year; most “improved” member – I still don’t know what that one meant – and a host of other recognitions) that included just about everyone in the ballroom.

Everyone went home happy, completely unaware they had been fed “bad” food. I’ll guarantee none of the attendees gained an ounce from that lunch, mostly because the portions were so small, the vegetables so colourful, the presentation so lovely that no one thought they were being “robbed” of enough food. What the chefs achieved was the same as it they had loaded the plates with piles of food that had no taste. With a dab of butter here, a pinch of sugar there, they made a satisfying meal and none of the organizers (who would have been horrified their instructions were ignored) were the wiser.

That’s too bad, because the group could have used that kind of lesson, that it’s not the hint of butter or the addition of some sugar that makes anyone fat, it’s the amount.

Fooling the eye is as important as satisfying the gut.

Programs like Weight Watchers work because, like Alcoholics Anonymous, the group dynamic is important. Unfortunately, you can’t give up food completely, like you can give up liquor or drugs or whatever else you’re hooked on. Food is really no different; it’s just more socially acceptable – up to a point. Have one drink too many on a regular basis, and you’re labeled a lush, a sot or an alcoholic.

But overeat at Thanksgiving or Hanukah and then Christmas and New Year’s and nobody’s going to call you a fat pig. Unless, of course you’re a woman and you’re overweight and the whispers you know are going on, disguised as concern. Oh, she’s so pretty, some catty po-faced drab will say to her next-door neighbour. She has such a pretty face, if she’s only lose all that weight.

I remember a particularly vicious encounter with a woman who shall remain nameless. She was tall, blonde, gorgeous — beauty pageant material — and incredibly stupid, although she was the sort of person who had an answer for everything and everyone. (I savoured the stupid part, even if thinking it made me feel I might be guilty of a venial sin.)

Nonetheless, her husband was a friend of the family and one holiday gathering, when I was feeling particularly good about myself, someone in the crowd asked how much weight I had lost. Instead of deflecting the question, I told her. Binbo chimed in, all 110 pounds of her, to tell the assembled audience how she just battled her weight all the time. She thrust out her considerable embonpoint (better known as her boobs) placed one hand on her left hip and whined: “I just gain it all right here.” Right, lady, you just jut out that bony hip of yours and pretend anyone in this crowd believes you.

It was one of the only times in my life when the perfect retort came at the right time, instead of at 3 a.m. I looked at her and said. “I don’t think you have any right to boast about an occasional skirmish when some of us are waging a war.” Did she understand what I was talking about? I didn’t care, but I felt a certain malicious satisfaction at the deep scorn in my voice.

And, much to my personal chagrin and guilt — because there is some awful glee in her fate — in the ensuing 25-odd years she has not aged well. Her husband is gone, her life is booze, her once-dewy skin now that of a heavy drinker. Oh, she’s still thin, but the men who used to dance attendance on her have gone on to younger and prettier prey and the rest of us in the crowd are still married.

NEXT: I am woman, watch me change.


Written by Catherine Ford

November 21, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. I know that blonde! Not a surprise.

    Jennifer Diakiw

    November 30, 2009 at 8:44 am

    • OK, Jennifer, “Who Dat?”


      Hugh Landerkin

      December 2, 2009 at 11:18 pm

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