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Amphetamines & Fat Farms
Fixing myself for my mother.
Although I’ve never weighed more than 350 at any given time, I must have gained about 750 pounds, overall, in my lifetime. I was ten when the yo-yoing started. Since my diagnosis of obesity, I was put under heavy scrutiny, and because a lot of my eating was done in secret, there was a big question mark over my head. I was taken to doctors, poked and probed, blood tested, hormones checked; no stone was left unturned.
Everyone was hoping to find a physiological dysfunction that could easily be addressed, but all my tests came back clean; I was fat because I was eating too much of the wrong foods. So, diet-doctors, it was going to be.
The first of many experts I was brought to was Dr. Finkelstein. My grandmother had gone to his fat farm in Normandy for years. I never knew her not to struggle with weight. In wedding pictures, she looked thinner, but that was before the war. She’d been a young Jew in Nazi-occupied Paris, and that trauma haunted her soul. I remember experiencing my first feelings of compassion for my mom having to be her daughter. I never saw my grandmother be anything but afraid, mean, and fat.
She always ate too much, saying she shouldn’t — as if something beyond her control was making her do it. At the end of her life, she’d gained such a massive amount of weight; she mostly didn’t get out of bed. At her funeral, in an ultimate and final humiliation, her casket wouldn’t fit in the grave. The unfazed diggers, in a moment of engineering genius, lowered her sideways.
When I was young, she went to Dr. Finkelstein’s clinic every summer. She’d come out in September, having eaten a low-calorie diet and lost a few pounds. She regained all of them - and then some - immediately when she got home.
Dr. Finkelstein was short, and the wrinkles on his forehead made him look like a Shar-pei dog. He smelled of cigarettes and age. He focused on my mom, completely ignoring me.
“She’s not fat enough to be sent away,” he said. “I’d like to see her once a week as an out-patient.” He went on, still only addressing my mom. “How long has she been overweight? Does she do any kind of exercise? Would she eat chicken-green beans for a while?”
The next thing I knew, they were looking at a calendar and deciding when I was coming back.
“She’ s leaving!” I said, slamming the door on my way out.
My mother saw the world in black and white. Thin was good; fat was bad. I was fat; ergo, I was bad. She was going to fix her fat daughter. I was put on his chicken-green bean regimen for months. I wish I could say it came from caring about me, but I suspect it didn’t. Her motivation was probably to avoid the turbulence a narcissist would feel over having a daughter that she’s ashamed of. The couple pounds I lost, like grandma, I regained — plus some 15 more.
A few months later, my mother took me to option two. Dr. Coriat was one of my father’s military buddies, and now Air France’s fleet doctor. He was all-eyebrows; so thick they covered part of his eyes. He seemed to like mom. She liked being liked. I instantly disliked him. Again, this was supposed to be about me; I might as well not have been in the room.
“So far, she’s been on a diet of the poor,” he said to my mother from beneath those brows. “Potatoes, rice, bread, pasta.”
I thought of Julia: her yummy tortillas, her pan perdido, her paellas, her white-bread-honey-butter or Nutella sandwiches; the love she’d put into every carb she’d ever fed me. I envisioned myself, jumping from my side of the desk, tearing his head off with my bare hands and twirling him around by those eyebrows. That’s what you’d get for insulting Julia’s cooking in front of me. I looked at my mother with an intense gaze, stood, and left. I’m not sure what she said to save face. She met me outside with the typical grimace she had when she was disappointed in me; we got back in the car and drove home in silence.
Dr. Apfelbaum was third on the list. My mom took me to visit him after a golfer friend raved about his holistic approach. Our first visit impressed me, and I decided to follow his protocol, answering dozens of questions about my nutritional habits: What time of day was I hungriest? What were my favorite foods? Did I prefer savory or sweet; crunchy or gooey?
From all of that information, he customized a plan for me. No sugar after 4:00 p.m; protein with every meal; smaller amounts more often; no snacking in between.
I followed his program religiously and lost some pounds. I learned a lot about nutrition, metabolism, insulin levels, hormones, and enzymes. But it was only food-centric and addressed nothing about my emotional, mental, cultural, or psychological mindset. I gained all the weight back in a few months, plus twenty more.
When I turned sixteen, we found our fourth doctor through another one of Mom’s friends who’d recently lost forty pounds. You just had to take some pills, and poof, you lost the weight. His office was on the Rive Gauche, where you were welcomed by a bag of bones in high heels—as if to say: “Look, our method works.” She barely said a word and sent us to an enormous waiting room filled with modern art pieces. From a different door appeared a tanned handsome man with abnormally white teeth.
I sat on the very edge of my chair, taking up as little space as possible, feeling like a stain on his carpet. Mom looking like she did, didn’t clash with anything.
The conversation lasted all of four minutes. He barely looked at me. He didn’t need to; I was fat and he knew it. That was enough. He wrote a prescription and walked us back to the door with those very white teeth on his face. The bone-bag charged us a skinny arm and a leg and gave us another appointment a month later, barely looking up from her Elle magazine filled with pictures of fellow bone-bags. We left, slightly apologetic for my being fat. We were sent to the only pharmacy in town where you could score his magical potion. That should have alarmed us, but we were too eager to question the integrity of the tanned wizard.
I dropped fifty pounds in less than two months under the pills’ enchanted spell. I wasn’t hungry at all. I was a bit nauseous, had hot flashes, and a very dry mouth. I had dark circles under my eyes and too much hair came off on my brush, but I was dropping weight, fast and a lot. Mom was happy. I overheard her telling friends that we were out of the woods and I was proud. I wore bathing suits that summer.
Then, I started crying. At first, a little, then a lot. Then, all the time.
The more I cried, the more I ate. The more I ate, the more I popped pills, until I plunged into a deep depression. I was 17 and couldn’t bring myself to go to school. I’d leave the house in the morning, hide in the staircase behind the elevator until I saw everyone leave. Then I would sneak back in; eat Nutella and baguettes, and sleep all day. I stopped the pills and regained the weight. The fifty I’d lost; plus fifteen more. I was not well.
A few months later, we read in the papers that the wizard, tan, teeth, and all, had been arrested for prescribing, what turned out to be high doses of amphetamine; and sent to jail for involuntary manslaughter, after an 18-year-old patient of his died of a heart attack. I didn’t get thin, but I didn’t die; lucky, I guess.
Mom took a break at this point and went back to playing golf and bridge. Narcissists don’t do well with failure.
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