Volume 8 (Fall 2014)
“I can't believe I'm calling an anorexic for dieting advice,” I said. “Seems like really bad form.”
“No. I'm really good at this. I can help. This is my specialty. You'd better go on a war path,” Liv told me, “Or in a month, you'll hate yourself.”
I had called Liv because I realized I was exactly one month out to my wedding and 15 pounds heavier than I intended to be. I had the form-fitting dress, hired an expensive photographer, and I wanted to be bride-ready for pictures. At 39, I couldn't do anything about being an old bride, but I might be able to do something about being a chubby one. I had bought one of those telephone book-sized bridal magazines, and the brides were all thin except for a special advertisement for full-figured bridal dresses. The models looked good in their special big girl dresses but not in the elegant way the skinny brides looked, or at least it seemed that way to me. So against my better judgment, I called my friend Liv, a recovering anorexic who had dieted into a size double zero for her own wedding.
“Write everything down, everything. Even gum. Don't go over 1,300 calories. And work out every day for an hour. Do sprints. You can lose eight maybe 10 before the wedding.”
I will stop right here to say I now see—past bride-addled brain—that this was not just bad form but completely fucked up, so much that I am ashamed to even admit it. But visions of bride skinny from glossy magazine pages had taken the place of good sense, or any sense for that matter, so I hung up the phone and began writing everything down. It was amazing how fast I could get to 1,300 calories. I could get there before 9 a.m., and I usually do most of my eating after 9 p.m.. I decided to figure out what was in 1,300 calories and eat the exact same thing every day so I wouldn't have to keep googling calorie content. That worked until Saturday came around, and I had a party to attend.
“I'm eating later,” I told the hostess and did my best not to stand near the appetizer table.
“Here. Just have one brownie,” my friend, who I now thought of as “The Skinny Bitch” said, “It's just a little one. And gluten free!” I declined, and she chased me around the house with the brownie. In the end, she wrapped it up and sent it home with me. She was determined. Also everyone else offered me wine—usually one of my favorite things, but at 150 calories, I would rather have a bowl of light popcorn. Or a giant salad with light dressing. It didn't take long to add things up in my head.
This is the definition of obsession.
I got home and called Liv. “Everyone wanted me to eat and drink.”
“That happens. Tell them you're getting married. Everyone will leave you alone. People get that.”
“I did. They still wanted me to eat brownies and drink wine.”
“But you didn't, did you?”
I knew that if I had started with the brownies and the wine, I wouldn't have been able to stop. The best thing was to stick with my pre-planned menus, which I had to admit wasn't very fun, but it was working. After about a week, I had lost five pounds.
Had I joined Liv's club? Had I stopped to consider whether the reward was worth he consequences? The truth is, I already knew. I have had enough friends over the years with eating disorders, friends whose lives were controlled by thoughts of eating and not eating, making their lives so very sad indeed—a prison of numbers that determines beautiful andself-worth. The problem is that the numbers are always changing and nothing is ever quite good enough—not even double zero.
This was also about the time I started to get grumpy. I would dream that I binged and then wake up relieved when I realized I was hungry and didn't really down a carton of mint chip ice cream. I teetered on the edge, snapped at the girl at Starbucks when she asked me if I wanted whipped cream or if she could wrap up a pastry to go with my coffee.
And inevitably, another social obligation which necessarily meant more food and more drink. I was throwing a birthday party for my friend Patty and I couldn't very well say, “Hey Patty, cake is not on the pre-planned menu.” I should have gone for a rum-filled fruit cake or something with shaved coconut—things I hate, though truth be told, I probably would have learned to love coconut, as long as it was drenched in something sweet.
But cupcakes were on sale at Safeway. You have control, I told myself. You don't have to eat one. They are not for you but for your guests. When I got to the checkout, all I could do was watch my pink frosted and rainbow-sprinkled cupcakes travel on the conveyer belt to the checker.
“These are so good. YUM,” the pimple-faced checker said when he got to the cupcakes. “I LOVE cupcakes.”
“They aren't for me,” I said. “I'm having a party. It's my friend's birthday. They are for her.”
“But, they aren't all for her. You get one. Or two.” He smiled.
“No, I don't. I don't get one. Or two. I'm not eating any.”
He frowned at me. “Why not? These are delicious,” he said, holding them above my shopping bag. “I couldn't help myself. I would eat two. Or three. They aren't that big!”
“Just put them in the bag, alright. Just ring me up.” I must have sounded a little frantic, must have scared him, because he dropped my box of cupcakes and they all got squished together. The sprinkles and pink frosting stuck to the top of the plastic box.
“Sorry, Ma'am,” he said. “You can go get another box.”
“No, it's fine.”
“Really, go get another one,” the people behind me in line said. “You don't want smashed cupcakes.” But I did want smashed cupcakes. They didn't look as good that way.
“No really, I'm fine,” I said. “My friends can eat smashed cupcakes. What do I care?” Then out of a meanness fueled by hunger, I said to the cashier, “You really should be more careful.”
The checker looked like he might cry, and I realized that's what my diet was doing to me: I had become the bitch who makes grocery store clerks cry.
So I paid and left with my smashed cupcakes.
At the dinner party, I reasoned that I had been so good on my diet that I deserved champagne. And after that, I deserved white wine. Then red. And at that point, with wine as my gateway drug to food, two cupcakes didn't sound wholly unreasonable to me. When I woke up the next morning, I had a hangover, but worse than that, I had cupcake guilt. I vowed to be good for the next three weeks.
That's when I started telling my husband-to-be how many calories were in the things he was eating. I even began to wonder about the number of calories in the kibble that filled my dogs' bowls.
The moment I told my husband-to-be that the slice of pizza in his hand contained 285 calories, he planned himself a mancation, took the dogs, and left me on my own for the wedding calorie countdown.
Dieting is a $35 billion industry. In theory, it's easy to control what goes in your mouth. But it's a slippery slope. The story I told myself constantly changed. One hour, I wanted to be a thin bride at any cost; I would do whatever it took. The next hour, I reasoned that my fiancé loved me just as I was and I was being crazy. But then I would think about the bride's burden—it's the one party where all eyes really are on you. I could hear everyone asking, “How did the bride look?”
I called another girlfriend, the unflappable Sandra, for advice.
“Buy a girdle and don't worry about it,” she said. “You won't care at your wedding. You won't even think about it.”
I ordered the Spanks but still, I obsessed.
Dieting proved to be a waste of brain energy, but just in my short dieting tenure, I could see how people become addicted to that loop—basing self-worth on the number of calories that goes into your mouth is easier than tallying acts of kindness and compassion. As it turns out, it's more work to be beautiful on the inside, but in the end, that's all that really matters. Dieting as distraction also meant I didn't have to think so much about what I was about to do and how marriage would change my life. About how I would take a vow, promising something none of us can really picture: forever. I was too busy looking up the number of calories in a peach
Three weeks in, I stepped on the scale again and had lost seven pounds, so I tried on the dress with the girdle to see how things were shaping up. The dress was noticeably looser. In the boobs. The dress was a low-backed halter; the bra specialist at Macy's declared that the dress had to be worn “braless.” Before the dieting warpath began, my breasts filled out the top and held up the dress. When I tried it on now, I realized I had lost exactly 3.5 pounds per boob. The material puckered and if I leaned certain ways, the space between the dress and boob was enough to show nipple. One of my signature moves on the dance floor, and I would become The Bride Who Showed Nipple. Meanwhile, the stomach fit the exact same way, maybe even tighter because my breasts no longer pulled the material up and away from the middle.
My text to Liv: Disaster. The dress is too loose in the boobs. Must eat.
Her text back: No! Get jelly boobs to put in bra.
My answer: Can't wear a bra. Jelly donuts not jelly boobs!
The truth is, I used Liv's self-starvation expertise, her propensity toward illness, to get advice on how to re-make myself into a bride “worthy” of the glossy pages of a magazine. I thought only of myself—I had become Bridezilla, the Hungry Bride, an even more narcissistic version of myself, one that no longer seemed worthy of marrying.
So I apologized to Liv who graciously said, “No really. I get it.” And then I set about getting my boobs back one cupcake at a time.
By the time my husband returned from his mancation, I was right back where I started, and he loved me just the same, as he always had.
As it turned out: Unflappable Sandra was right: On my wedding day, I didn't care that I wasn't skinny. I ate cupcakes and drank champagne and what mattered to me was that I was surrounded by my favorite people, that I was marrying the right husband—a man who couldn't care less how much I weighed and also recognized when it was time to skip town and let me figure this one out on my own.
Suzanne Roberts is the author of the memoir Almost Somewhere (Winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award), as well as four collections of poetry. She teaches at Lake Tahoe Community College and for the Low Residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College. Visit her website.
On Libations: A pinot noir in the winter and a sauvignon blanc or dry rose in the summer.
The Hungry Bride
by Suzanne Roberts
The problem is that the numbers are always changing and nothing is ever quite good enough—not even double zero.
But cupcakes were on sale at Safeway. You have to control, I told myself.
My husband-to-be ... planned a mancation, took the dogs, and left me on my own for the wedding calorie countdown.