Don’t look, she’s eating
November 14, 2010
Actress Emma Stone hosted Saturday Night Live on October 23. I just love her! (Stone shot to stardom following her performance as a self-possessed teen in Superbad, a film that is ostensibly about a teenage boy’s date rape fantasy: “If I get her drunk enough, she’ll have sex with me.”) She’s got sharp comedic timing and a wonderful authenticity. In short, she’s seems like a real girl. You can’t imagine her, say, having 10 plastic surgeries like Heidi Montag.
But like 99.9% of Hollywood actresses, she’s thin. Does she have to work at it? Who knows! It could be natural. Or it could be the product of diet and exercise efficacy. One thing is for sure: she didn’t get or stay thin eating lots of potato chips!
Yet one sketch on SNL had her eat potato chips right out of a big bag. It seemed like she ate a lot of them, indiscriminately. And this sketch directly followed a commercial parody for “BabySpanx”: the girdle for “fat” babies, or rather for their disappointed and embarrassed parents. (We’re fat-obsessed in this culture to be sure.)
While watching the potato chip sketch, my inner monologue went something like this:
Um, how can Emma Stone eat those chips?! She’s the perfect ‘skinny.’ If she eats one more bite, I’m going to get really mad… What does she do, throw them up during the commercial break?* She can’t possibly be eating those chips for real! What if those aren’t real potato chips? Maybe they’re made of cotton balls dipped in orange juice or something. I once read that fashion models eat cotton balls to stay thin. Or maybe she didn’t eat anything else all day… Maybe she just has a really high metabolism. Some people are lucky that way… Okay, she’s still eating the chips! Doesn’t she worry about what people will think?! In the United States and other places, it’s considered unsightly for women to eat greasy food, and sometimes to eat anything at all. I can’t believe she’s eating those chips on live television for all the world to see… That’s not fair! I want to be able to eat junk food and stay on track with my weight. What gives?! She should get less calories than I do because she weighs less, not more! How is this happening?!
Silly me: I thought the “battle of the bulge” neurosis was behind me. It’s not. It’s an indelible stain on my psyche. At some point during my childhood, I became convinced that certain foods are “bad” foods, potato chips being one of them. From then on, I feared food, saw it as my enemy. And in denying myself certain foods, I accepted the idea that I could never enjoy eating without a modicum of guilt. In other words, I’d automatically assume that if it tasted good, it was bad for my body. Following that train of thought, I convinced myself that there’s something wrong with me and that I don’t deserve to eat tasty things. Not eating became a form of masochistic punishment for being inadequate: I would starve myself to feel better.
In college, I got so thin that my hips would bruise when I slept on my hip bones at night. But because I was thin, I thought I’d punished myself enough to have earned confidence. I rejoiced in my newfound beauty and smoked enough cigarettes to forget about what I wasn’t eating…and what I was eating amounted to about 400 calories per day. I slept around but didn’t find anything meaningful in sex…and every time a man broke up with me, I’d assume it was because I was too fat and go on a hunger strike. I ate less and less and gradually became emptier and emptier: spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. All of my self-esteem rested on a rusty scale that I hid under my bed. At night, I would curse food and cry myself to sleep.
Largely I’ve overcome this negativity when it comes to food, but not when it comes to the concept of being thin. Women are supposed to be thin, aren’t we? There’s no other way to be accepted as outwardly beautiful. I tell myself and everybody else that I just want to get into a healthy weight range, though in the back of my mind, an insecure teenager is screaming and weeping, “I want to be thin!” Thin is in vogue. Why? Like most things, being thin is popular because it’s exclusive to a small group of people, and for the most part, those people are wealthy. “Good” foods – as opposed to bad foods like those composed of fat and carbohydrates – are expensive to come by. So, like the clothes that most women want and can’t afford, diet foods and diet pills and liposuction, etc. cost too much money for most. Even when you break down nutritious eating to the simple task of cooking meals with fresh produce and lean protein, you still come up with the fact that many people don’t have that kind of time on their hands. Time is money.
Some people are trim without trying, that’s true. The fact of the matter is that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. But, whether you’re predisposed to obesity or not, if you consume more calories than you burn off, your body will create and retain fatty tissue. That’s why it’s frustrating to think about a slender woman eating indiscriminately. The part of my brain that has achieved a quiet repose with regard to dieting tends to go a little nuts when I see a calorie contradiction in terms like skinny overeater.
But Stone didn’t overeat at all. I watched this sketch twice, and the second time, counted the chips she ate: 22. That’s roughly one serving or 250 calories and 15 grams of fat. For me, that’s about a quarter of my daily food intake…but certainly not off-limits. In fact, there is no food that’s strictly off-limits for me, thin-speaking. I just have to do a little planning. I had potato chips yesterday, for instance. I ate a bag of kettle-cooked, reduced fat chips (240/11) along with a salad of lettuces, legumes, broccoli, radishes, olives and a drizzle of red wine vinegar. All told, it was a 10-point lunch (I follow the Weight Watchers® plan) and well-worth the splurge on potato chips. I ate them slowly and savored every morsel.
I have the best of both worlds: I eat all the foods I really like, some of the time, and still lose weight…some of the time. (I have 26.8 lbs. left to lose, and I’m about 4 lbs. over my pre-pregnancy size. I should be back to my old size 6 in…a year or two. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day!) But all of this rational thinking doesn’t mean I don’t slip up from time to time: lapse back into a pattern of guilty eating. What keeps me from overindulging and hiding the evidence is leaving evidence of my food intake in plain sight via a food diary in which I write everything I consume. In this way, I own my eating. Occasionally, I’ll have a moment of weakness and ingest an extra slice of pizza or too much wine. Then I find myself thinking, “If nobody saw you eat that last bite, it never happened.” The hardest thing I have to do is admit I ate it to myself and then write it down. Once I face the scale on Saturdays – hey, I gained .4 lbs. last week, it’s easy to get back on track. And I have to get back on track because, even if nobody saw me eat, I did. I can’t hide it from the scale. And ultimately, feeling under control and not feeling guilty are the keys to feeling good, for me.
This same mental hurricane happened to my Weight Watchers meeting leader on a recent trip to visit her daughter and grandchildren. She was pressed for time and decided on a fast food lunch, always a trigger for overindulgence. On the menu: a Whopper® with cheese. Knowing that she was going to be spending time with inquisitive kids who enjoy getting to the bottom of a your-breath-smells-like-onions-so-what-did-you-eat? food mystery, she quickly stopped by her own home to brush her teeth and even change her clothes (onions are potent, I guess). In the back of her mind, she told herself to own the cheeseburger and write it down, but she was rushing to meet the family and didn’t do it.
Her daughter served fried chicken and mashed potatoes, of which the rambunctious children ate very little, leaving heaping portions for the grown-ups. My leader didn’t know how to say “no” to a serving or “no” to taking home leftovers. Her inner monologue kept telling her not to let her ex-husband know about her afternoon fast food selection. So she ate, all the while thinking that she’d make it up to herself with a full day of salad tomorrow. And as for the leftovers: the dogs will eat them, she decided.
“But let’s be honest,” she told our group. “Those dogs were never going to eat that chicken. I went home and put it in the fridge only to hang my head and eat it cold over the kitchen sink at 3 a.m. when I was sure nobody was looking.” Even the dogs were asleep.
Why did she do that? I’ve done it too. Why? Why, why, why? Because of the guilt. Because of the desire to be skinny like the “pretty” girls and the wrongful notion that being thin enough (for Weight Watchers and my doctor and myself) isn’t possible. Because of the attempts we make to be seemingly perfect women: with makeup covering every blemish or wrinkle and “LadySpanx” sucking in every spare ounce of fat on our bodies. Unfortunately, even all the money in the world can’t make us perfect because there’s no such thing. The most we can hope for is to be happy.
And that means eating a serving of potato chips from time to time.
*I am NOT suggesting that Emma Stone has an eating disorder.