It is Weight-loss Season, and I Have Something to Say . . . Part 1

Back when I was a nearly anorexic girl of 18, now over 40 years ago, one night as I was trying to go to sleep – see I had a doctor back then, that thought that the way to keep a prone-to-fat girl slim was to give her amphetamines – anyway, I was laying there – feeling my hip bones, poking toward the ceiling – my stomach concave – my ribs, countable and feeling … horrified.

Today, occasionally, I think of the fashion models and wonder if they ever lay in bed at night feeling their hip bones, ribs and concave stomachs and I wonder… do they feel the way I felt that night?  Horrified?

I was horrified. I didn’t have a “flat stomach” that all the various diet drinks, gyms, and magazines “encouraged” me to have.  I had a concave stomach.  CONCAVE.

Best I can tell, no one tells you that you should have a concave stomach, pointy hip-bones and countable ribs.  Back then, the doctor wanted to get my weight in line with the then current insurance chart.

See, I was a fat pre-teen.  I gained weight just prior to puberty (which was at 10 years old)  – prior to that I had been a skinny kid – so much so that my doting Mom worried I was too thin.  She was “too thin” all her life and knew how hurtful that was to a young girl – of the 1930s and 1940s anyway.

You tell me - are these two "too thin"? Maybe in 1956... and that's the problem!

But then her too-thin child became fat – quickly.

She took me to my pediatrician.  This was the first visit to him since I’d hit puberty and he told her that he would no longer treat me.  I needed an “adult” doctor.  So she took me to the doctor she believed in – the doctor who had saved her life from breast cancer.  She took me to her doctor and told him she believed there to be something wrong with me – that I gained the weight so quickly and she was worried there was something wrong – that my metabolism was slow, was it glands? hormones?

Now, doctors in the 1960s – even more than doctors now, if you can believe it – believed they were smarter, faster, better than the average person and I suppose that in many ways the docs then were “smarter” than the average person – we now have the internet to look up our symptoms and read about our ailments – doctors hate that, but do seem to tolerate it somewhat better because they somehow acknowledge that all this information can help them diagnose a person.  Back in the 1960s though, medical information was a closely held secret, making doctors like wizards doing magic.  Trying to “help” the doctor diagnose someone – yourself – your kid – was not acceptable.

So the doctor told my mother “Yes, there’s something wrong: she’s fat because she eats too much.”  My mother had the audacity to argue with him.  She was a feisty one.  She’d argue with anyone.  She shot back at him, “No she doesn’t.  She doesn’t eat any differently than I do or than my husband or my son … none of the three of us are fat … she eats the same food we do but she has a different metabolism … she gains weight, we don’t.  Why is that?”  She thought she had him there – and she probably did, but he retorts, “She sneak eats.”  Mom: “She does not.” Doc: “You overfeed her – you give her cake and candy and Kool-aid.” Mom: “I do not.  We have healthy fruit and vegetable choices for snacks, I don’t bake or buy trash food. And as for Kool-aid, it is not in my house. We have fruit juice or milk.”

Please bear in mind that this little “adult” drama is being played out in front of my 12-year-old eyes and it was not an argument my mother was going to win.

To review:  I had just been called a fat, overeating, sneak eater by the supreme authority figure of most people’s lives – a doctor.

His solution to my overeating/sneak eating was to put me on a 500 calorie diet (yes, five hundred) and give me an Rx for little black-and-white amphetamines and threw in a 5 mg Valium Rx as well.  Gawd.  All this happened between the 6th and 7th grade.  The beginning of the summer of 1965, I was on the following diet:

  • 1/2 grapefruit or 1 orange for breakfast
  • 1 bowl of soup for lunch (this amounted to about 1/2 can of soup)
  • 4 oz of meat, 2-2oz servings of vegetables and 1 cup of lettuce (no dressing) for dinner
  • Snack:  unsweetened iced tea

I was not allowed to eat bananas, milk or any type of bread products.  I had to limit my fluid intake. I also could not have any added salt to my food. I was actually lucky if the above amount of food actually totalled up to 500 calories.  I don’t know about you, but ANYONE would lose weight QUICKLY on the above diet.

At first, I lost so much weight that we thought the little yellow pill (Valium) he’d given me was a diuretic.  Then my Mom asked the pharmacist what it was and he told her it was a tranquilizer.  When she asked the doc about this, he said “It is so she can sleep.”  That summer I went to Girl Scout Day Camp (in South Texas 100 degree heat) and summer school and my parents moved to a new house and at 12, I had my own set of duties during that move as well as household chores. Thanks, I could sleep just fine – with so little food, I was exhausted.

One of my aunts was so impressed with the weight loss, she went to the same doctor and he put her on the same diet, only her amphetamines were triple the strength of mine – after all – she was an adult.  Sheesh.

That summer, my aunt and I lost weight together – I lost about 40 pounds – she lost 75 pounds.  We both looked like walking skeletons.  But remember, this was 1965 – the heyday of Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy.

Twiggy (from the Wikipedia entry) doesn't look great here - she looks tired and hungry - just like me and my aunt Marlene. But we all could wear tiny clothes!

For the next 6 years, I was able to maintain the weight loss – I could actually eat some more food but I took my amphetamines every morning so that, instead of food energy I had drug energy.  By the time I was 18 I had also become the sneak eater that my doctor had originally accused me of.  But I was SKINNY!

On my way to my Senior Prom with my date, Dennis, in my Vogue Pattern, Givenchy-designed gown handmade by my mother in about a week because Dennis was a procrastinator. Check out those collar bones!

The gown was tiny – I still have it – sizes then were different than they are now – this would probably be somewhere around a size 2 or maybe 4 now.  I haven’t gotten it out to measure it.  At the time it was an 11.  In the above picture of my Mom in 1956, she wore a size 12 — but those were in the days when Marilyn Monroe wore a size 16.

So back to that night in 1971, when I was laying in bed, feeling my bones, my concave stomach, I thought, “Enough.  I am not going through this any more – I am not starving or taking pills.  I don’t want to feel this way anymore.”  And that was that.  By the end of that year, I’d gained about 20 pounds – went from 115 in the May prom picture to about 135 in December – I am 5’6″ tall, so 135 wasn’t bad – Somewhere in there “they” changed the clothing sizing and we went to the “new sizing” and my size 11 became a size 9 so when I gained that 20 pounds I was actually still wearing a size 11.  Go figure.  Thanks New Sizing!  But that is a whole other blog entry!

There’s much more to this story, and I will tell it in part 2, but now, since we’re over 1300 words… I’ll just say – watch for Part 2.

© 2011