Editor's Note: For the first time in the history of the San Mateo County Fair, a 300-page anthology has been published that includes more than 100 stories, poems and essays from writers who submitted award-winning work for the fair's literary contest. The idea was the brainchild of Bardi Rosman Koodrin, a San Bruno resident who runs the fair's literary contest, and the anthology, titled "Carry the Light," features work from many Peninsula writers.
From p. 266, “Diets are for Dummies!”
There are hundreds of books out there in the For Dummies series. I need to find a Diets for Dummies edition. I know there must be one for people like me, who have to go on a diet every single year after overindulging during the holidays. I need to find it, and nail a copy next to my bathroom mirror, so I can see it whenever I’m forced to examine the overly-rounded curves of my post-holiday naked body. Actually, I don’t even need a book. All I need is a simple text consisting of one line. Eat sensibly, dummy!
I oppose diets as a general rule, yet I am forever sucked into the dieting vortex. Just like every other American woman, January finds me poring over the magazine racks searching for the diet secret for firmer thighs and a cellulite-free butt. The magazines frustrate me. The publications’ covers portray an unrealistic image of American women. Who among us is ever going to look like Jennifer Lopez or Eva Longoria? It’s not fair, I grumble, that I have to achieve the look of a Barbie doll, while men are allowed to go bald, turn gray and encourage a profusion of fat cells to hang over their belts during football season. And, somehow, women still want them! Where’s the justice in this world?
Intellectually, I know with a level head and sensible palate there would never be a need for a diet. A bit of chocolate here, a morsel of cheesecake there, lean meat, fish, and lots of fruits and veggies—and a woman can sustain a happy, deprivation- free life. Eat sensibly, dummy, would do the trick. The theory is good, but I’m a dummy! Thanks to my Italian mother and grandmother, who both spent at least six hours a day in their kitchens concocting meals I can only dream about replicating, I was raised to believe that food is synonymous with life. But the overindulgence part is all my doing.
Embracing my inner Italian
At certain times of year—during the holidays and often vacations too— something snaps inside me, and the sensual, eternally hungry part of me tells my pragmatic half to embrace my inner Italian. Together, we start to rip open four-pound chocolate chip bags with our teeth. The temptress tells my rational half to stage food orgies and she, like a dummy, obeys. Last year, for instance, these hips were lugging an extra ten pounds—six from too much Christmas cheer and the rest from bingeing on Navajo fry bread while vacationing in Indian country.
When submitting to this kind of temptation, I turn into a frenzied Julia Child in the kitchen—a whirling dervish of the dessert world. I take up the slogan: I eat therefore I am. Pots boil on all four burners. Two ovens and a microwave labor at my command. As many timers buzz at various intervals to tell me my latest culinary masterpiece has achieved perfection. Often we suffer small kitchen fires or electrical blackouts when I’m in one of my “foodie” trances.
The dreaded diet
Alas, the food forages leave me with no choice but to indulge in the dreaded diet. While the fat cells slipped onto my lower extremities while I was napping, it always takes an act of God and a truckload of carrot sticks to get them off. When dieting, I sometimes feel I am single-handedly trying to bolster our nation’s vegetable economy.
Diets are painful. Bowls of lettuce and fat free yogurt pale when compared to pastas that ooze creamy, rich sauces or four-layer chocolate mousse cakes.The nights stretch on interminably. I realize that the meaning of life is tied up with fat and sugar. Pasta with pesto calls my name in the darkness, as I attempt to fall asleep. If I try to count sheep, they turn one by one into homemade chocolate covered biscotti. So I count, instead, the hours until my paltry grapefruit and herbal tea breakfast.
Occasionally I slip. One night, my husband discovered me before an open freezer at 2:00 a.m. mumbling incoherently about being a failure and mainlining a dessert aptly called Decadence that I smuggled into the house during a weak moment. On evenings such as this, I often say to my Irish husband, “Can we move to Ireland? Your people have no tempting cuisine!”
When he tells me to tone down the insults, I reach for my Encyclopedia of Cookery that boasts a measly four pages on Irish cooking and features recipes with names like cock-a-leekie soup (which calls for locating an elderly fowl) andboxty-on-the-pan! “See,” I say, “I could live in Ireland without temptation. Who would eat this crap?”
But failures and hysteria aside, eventually I claim success for my own. I fill with pride the day I reach my goal of weight loss and dump that four-letter “d” word from my vocabulary and the temptress (that pushy bitch) from my personality. The first thing I want to do is toss every photosynthesizing vegetable into the garbage disposal, but I know that will only start the vicious cycle all over again.
Still, sometime before the day is over, I can be found—like a small child— peering into the window of our Italian-American bakery, the gods of cannoli taunting me. I find strength when I see my skinnier body reflected in the store window.
From now on the magazine industry will have to find some other weak-willed individual to torment in January with ten thousand diet tips. Diets are for dummies! This year will be different. I vow never again to begin a sojourn toward chubbiness. I have control over my life. I have seen the light, and it will guide me. I also realize I’m never going to resemble any hot number like Eva Longoria. That idea should have sunk like the Titanic with my 35th birthday! But I can promise to eat healthy and take pride in my appearance. With determination, I stare down the cannoli and walk away— the victor—chanting the line from my short book like a mantra, “Eat sensibly, dummy.”
Excerpted from "Carry the Light" with the permission of Sand Hill Review Press, the publisher. The book is available for purchase for $12 on Amazon.com.
Lucy Ann Murray is a freelance writer who lives in Belmont.