The look on her face said it all.
“What kind of fish do you like?” she asked sweetly.
“I won’t really eat fish,” I answered truthfully. “But I love shrimp and crab!”
“How about baked or roasted chicken?” she countered.
“Only if there isn’t any other form of protein in the house,” I replied.
She cocked her head to one side, looking at me straight in the eyes. Something was weird. She just didn’t know what.
She didn’t know that when I was a single girl living in the city I once received a plastic head of lettuce as an apartment-warming gift from a friend who knew that I every head of lettuce I ever bought with good intentions eventually got tossed into the garbage a week later, a gooey, decaying mess.
She didn’t know that as a toddler I refused to eat anything except Rice Krispies and whole milk – – for an entire year.
She didn’t know that when I was a little girl my mother made to-die-for Swedish meatballs with spaetzl, but mostly, she was unable to prepare regular meals.
For my entire childhood my brown bag lunch was a white bread bologna sandwich — no mustard — no mayonnaise — and an apple. When my mother began her descent into drinking and generally doing what she wanted and “napping” at odd hours, she couldn’t be bothered to prepare meals at mealtime, if at all.
That’s when quarters stolen from pockets were transformed into dill pickles and huge 29-cent bags of Lay’s barbecue potato chips up at Charlie’s corner store. I began hiding boxes of Bugles under my bed. No one noticed because no one ever cleaned my room, including me.
There were nights when hunger would keep me awake and I would risk the wrath of my mother by waking her and asking her for something to eat. Cream of Wheat would be fine, I’d offer apologetically. Whether my mother rose to feed me was predicated on the state of my hands. Specifically, she would demand I hold my hands out palms down. If they shook — we called it vibrations — she’d get up and shuffle down the hall to the kitchen and fill a pot with water. If not, I’d be told to go back to bed.
I told my nutritionist all of this, referring to my crazy, illogical and harmful habits as just part of The Toxic Mom Diet and bless her heart, she kept a neutral face throughout. She must know better than most after so many client meetings that food is never just about food. She was sorry that happened to me. But I got the impression my story was not unique to her. She was all business, which made it a lot easier for me.
“Let’s start a list of foods you like, that are nutritious and go from there. Let’s not worry about portions, just foods you will eat,” she said.
That first list grew to include sliced turkey, turkey bacon, eggs, edemame, Baby Bell light cheese rounds, flax crackers, Trader Joe’s quinoa and chicken shu mai, and California roll sushi. With this food roster and an occasional meal out, I averaged a one- to two-pound loss per week. And I didn’t have to beg anyone to get up and make it for me.
I was finally, actively, feeding myself and it felt good. I felt good.
Coming next Sunday: Nutritious meals for the Non-Cook
Rayne Wolfe is a former New York Times regional reporter and she has been published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Glamour Magazine, and was a former business columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Times. Her book, Toxic Mom Toolkit, is available on Amazon.