Darlene Cates in"Gilbert Grape"
A friend once told me that his tendency to lose weight and gain it back again in 25-pound increments was merely an inconvenience. Either he had to keep two identical sets of clothing in limited closet space or go out and purchase a new wardrobe each time his cycle came around again.
He claimed something I found hard to believe: that he carried no emotional weight along with his fat problem. He thought he looked better thin but insisted he had no issues of, say, personal autonomy or misdirected anger, no feelings of depression or fear or failure linked to the tightening of his waistband. It was just a matter of self-control. When he didn't have it, he gained weight. "I like to eat," he shrugged.
What a lucky man. To the rest of us, male and female, who struggle with our weight, overeating is connected to all sorts of private, personal, often inarticulable issues and emotions - loneliness, boredom, stress, guilt, anger, to just about everything, in fact, except actual hunger.
Books abound on the subject. To many women, to quote the title of one, Fat is a Feminist Issue
. Their struggle to attain a certain body type is apparently bound up in expectations of what a woman's body "should" look like. (This is, I suppose, why so many women on diets seem already too thin - ironically, thinner than most men want them to be.) In America, oppression because of body weight has spawned a magazine called Big Beautiful Woman
and an organization called the "Fat Liberation Movement," which provides moral support and a social community for people who don't see what's wrong about being large.
Another book, called Fat Is a Family Affair
, is based on the author's notion that people learn their eating disorders from the emotional mess of their relationships with parents - daughters especially in the context of their relationship with controlling mothers.
A lot of people also consider fat a Jewish issue. According to a recent survey in the New York City area, Jewish families consume "almost double" the amount of cake and donuts that non-Jewish families do and more than twice as much diet soda and cottage cheese.
A professional in the eating-disorder industry claims that Jews tend to choose food over addictions to other substances. Food is just another drug, after all, the cheapest, most easily available, most socially acceptable mood-altering substance. Is it merely a coincidence that Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by two Christian men, while Overeaters Anonymous was founded by two Jewish women?
So take your pick: Fat is a feminist, family, or Jewish issue. It is also, of course, a more general issue. In the United States, where taking statistical surveys is a major form of exercise, a quarter of the adult population is said to be seriously overweight. At any one time, in fact, 100 million Americans - nearly half the population - are trying to lose weight. In Israel - well, put down your bag of Bamba and look around you.
Scientists recently isolated the hormone that controls hunger and are investigating its regulation as a method for weight control. I doubt it will work. Overweight comes, in my experience, not from overeating in response to hunger but from overeating despite the absence
All addictions are a form of self-delusion, even so mild a one as eating not wisely but too well. I am, for example, mysteriously able to convince myself that many small slices of cake don't really equal a slice of cake; that eating standing up or walking around doesn't count; that one more small portion doesn't matter; that vacations, celebrations and Shabbat are separate islands so far as eating is concerned; that small gestures of exercising make up for much larger culinary indulgences - and, always, that tomorrow (or even later today) will be different.
I mention all this in public only because I know that I am not alone. I would go on talking about it, too, except that I think I hear, from the kitchen, the sweet voice calling to me of a pound cake which I have already eaten half of. Can another little slice hurt?