Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On Being a Peasant

My grandmother (standing) with her sister  at home, Mendicino, Italy

A while back I went to the doctor for the first time in three years. Not the OB-GYN kind but the regular kind although my doctor isn't all that regular as she works in what's called a center for integrative medicine. It's the kind of place where tabletop fountains make a beautiful noise and the receptionist asks you whether you'd like a cup of green tea as you sit on the little sofa in the waiting room and leaf through yoga magazines. Santa Monica breezes waft through the room, It would be nauseatingly politically correct if it weren't so damn peaceful, and while I have to submit paperwork to my insurance company because the center doesn't deal with insurance companies (a plus, in my book, actually!), it's worth the extra hassle and money.

It turns out that I'm perfectly healthy -- my "numbers," the blood work, all that jazz, are well within normal range and for that, I'm very grateful.

Except that I need to lose weight. I knew that already.


A while back I wrote an essay on the tyranny of exercise, how much I hate it, how much I hate that it's so good for you. I think I tied it up with the tyranny of Roman Catholicism, too, but that's another story. But speaking of Roman Catholicism, my Italian grandmother, a devout Catholic, was an incredibly strong woman. It's said that she could carry many bags of groceries blocks and blocks in New York City and then up many flights of stairs. She had worn, leathery arms, one of them covered by a large scar that was the result of stirring tomato sauce that spattered when she was a child. She was quite stout and not particularly cheerful, but she was a good grandmother, tucking dollar bills into our hands for the ice-cream man and urging us to eat more and more of her astoundingly good food.

I doubt my Noni ever worried about her weight and probably took her physical strength for granted. She became quite demented in her old age but died at nearly ninety years of age.

When the doctor laid out the results of my blood work and cheerfully told me that everything looked fine, except for my actual weight, I felt a tinge of annoyance. I'll admit to the insane thought I had that it would almost be easier if there was a life or death reason to lose weight. It seems like I have the constitution of a southern Italian peasant but the desire for a Sophia Loren body.

Today is the second day of a doctor-directed 21-day Cleanse. I'm eliminating sugar, caffeine, dairy, wheat, beef and pork from my diet for 21 days in the hopes that I'll kickstart my metabolism and perhaps take some weight off. I'm going to try to appease the exercise tyrant as well.


  1. I look back at photos of my grandmother and none of them were small. They were all "overweight". And yes, I am sure none of them felt the pressure to lose weight.
    I hear you about exercise. I hate it too! I think we have to find something that we actually like. I like walking and love swimming. I definitely enjoy yoga too (especially the meditation part when you just sit there and relax!)
    Keep us posted on your cleanse and good luck!

  2. I love that photo of your grandmother. Good luck with the cleanse! I will not say anything unsupportive about that, since I need to join you in that boat!

    But seriously, when you eliminate all those things you listed, what's left? Right, fruits and veggies and chicken and fish and legumes, Am I missing anything?

    I really am contemplating joining you, actually, except i don't think i can give up my morning coffee. can i get away with keeping that?

  3. You've just listed my diet! That shouldn't be to hard.... Oh, wait! That's the list of stuff you're going OFF? Getting RID of? Never mind ;-)

  4. That picture is so great. I have that same issue with my doctor, but he's into BMI so I'm going to a new one. One who will tell me something similar I'm sure. I have heard about that cleanse, so I'll look for your progress reports. I need to do the same. Sigh.

  5. This is going to take fortitude but you have plenty of that.
    Here. I'll hold your hand and oh...if you're not going to eat that, can I have it?
    Love you, Elizabeth.

  6. I support you in your attempt to "cleanse", though I can't there myself. Food rules make me irritable and slightly unbalanced. I just try to eat some fruits and vegies everyday and have a little compassion towards my 51 year old slightly chubby body.

  7. I'm going to do this cleanse over the summer. Are you taking the supplement? How are you feeling?

    I'm pretty sure I come from super healthy peasant stock as well.


  8. What Noan said.

    (Except I am 4 years older.)


  9. I would last all of a day on that diet - maybe 3. Internet says you can last 3 days without coffee. (it might've meant water). Kudos to you for trying!

    I will add that I've been running lately and haven't perished (yet) but my brother is bullying me into it. There's an idea... "In Praise of the the Bully".

  10. I'm sorry - what does that cleanse say that you CAN eat? You listed just about all of the food groups that I know!

    I love that photo of your relatives. I'd like to be able to love myself in a body like theirs. It is NORMAL. It makes much more sense to eat and enjoy food and wine in middle age than it does to obsess about looking like a toothpick. However, if it's for your health, I support you and your doctor. You must take care of your health! I know that you are busy taking care of others, but you are just as important as they are.

    Living in LA, you must have so much horrible pressure to conform to blonde-toothpick-sized-dazzling-white-perfect-smile-dom. It would be so difficult to live with that all around. I admire you immensely!

    One of the reasons that I keep up with simple exercise is that it's an antidepressant. Even just walking helps.

  11. If life was fair, moms of disabled kids should be able to eat anything they want in unlimited quantities and not gain weight from it. Sort of as a compensation. I wonder to whom I should bring this up :)

  12. I absolutely love that photo.
    Body image is a complicated thing...
    I am like Karen in that my mood is very much related to what I eat and how overweight I am or feel. I tried not worrying about it, just settling into to a whatever will be body and it made me crazy. So now I'm doing the hard work of watching portion sizes and running more than walking.
    I don't like programs or diets or classes. Or teams. Or dvd's . I have four daughters that have my husband's genetics it seems, bigger bones, curves, stamina, strength. I wonder if they will have weight issues at some point. My son seems to be more like me.
    And I hate that I think that , but I do.

  13. I've kept myself overweight by affirming that unless there isn't a medical reason to lose weight, it's good practice for me to accept myself as I am. A handy excuse, I know, but the thought of depriving myself of some of the things that give me so much joy is painful when coupled with the other things I already tell myself I "have" to do every day.

    I admire your strength and wish you well.

  14. What an incredible photo. My maternal grandmother was rather round, and she believed her chubbiness to be a sign of good health, as it used to be.

  15. Photo is marvelous. What comes to mind when you mention cleanse is the very end of Super Size Me when the guys vegan chef girlfriend was siting at the computer detailing the 30 day cleanse she was gong to start him on after his 30 days of junk food. Contrary to MD predictions all of his hideous abnormal lab results returned to wnl within a month but it took a year to lose the wight. I still say Weight Watchers is the most well rounded plan around. You learn to eat right, you have the group support and the weight stays off. It takes longer and this does not appeal to our quick fix generation. Try a mini trampoline! I'm becoming a trampoline missionary...

  16. My Italian immigrant grandmother was 4'11" and overweight her whole life. But, she worked hard every day and lived well into her 90s, enjoying family and friends until dementia took her. As my father was adopted, I don't have her genes. But, I can say that her weight was just who she was. I think cleaning up our food is a good idea (I'm now off all caffeine and sweets including chocolate and feel better), but measuring our bodies can be a slippery slope. Especially here in the U.S. Good luck as you find your way through this.

  17. i dieted for many years (hard to believe, now) and then took up walking and gave up dieting... got to a pretty normal weight and was happy. now, of course, i wish for the days when i could eat healthy things (or anything!) life is strange, that way...

    so go on your cleanse, it can't hurt, and walk somewhere beautiful, or do something else for your body that you ENJOY. and eat a piece of your wonderful chocolate cake now and then, for me? and glory in your strength.

  18. Oof oof oof. The first three days are the hardest. After 21 days you'll have formed habits & the decisions won't be as difficult.

    Good for you, taking the steps and doing the hard work to stay healthy. You'll feel good for it and be stronger. More energy too.

    I've been scaling back portions and cutting down on wine (from a glass a night to one or two a week). Exercising at least every other day. But giving up coffee??? That would be hard.

  19. My dear cousin, grandma was always plump. As the years went on though, she lost weight. "She was strong like bull". Remember everything in moderation: a little pasta, some bracciole,sopresatte,un bicchiere di vino, pane,dolce,e una tazza di caffe; and don't forget to put on those sneakers and walk everyday. Start off easy and then you will see how fast you build up stamina.
    Good Luck.



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