Biography of The Sugar Fiend Part 1: Is it possible to be born with a 'no real food' tooth?
Ever since I can remember, I have always been a sugar fiend.
I was a chubby child. Although I have sculpted this away with exercise and some bit of dietary restraint, anyone who has ever been the last girl picked for soccer in gym class because the captains were afraid the chubster with the frizzy hair couldn't run across the field without getting winded--"oh, I guess we get the fat girl," said the disappointed person who was forced to bear my lack of athletic skills--knows what I mean when I say you never forget your fat self. You can lose the appearance of flab, but just like they say you can never lose fat cells, you never lose that memory of being the fat girl. No amount of Slim Fast and Jane Fonda will burn that away (can you tell I grew up in the 1980s).
Now, you probably assume I'm going to tell you that as a child I had an unrestrained appetite, that I always wanted two rather than one cheeseburgers with my Happy Meal. Many people who have struggled with their weight have 'outed' themselves as unusually hungry kinds.
However, with me that was far from the case. Meat that looked like meat repulsed me. I hated the gummy texture of even the smallest piece of fat on steak, much to my parents' displeasure. They grew up poor, and dreamed of being able to afford steak. One of my mother's sorriest memories was when her grandmother's poodle devoured the roast intended for the Friday night payday dinner, back before everyone had credit cards to buy what they wanted, when they wanted it (see, I told you--child of the 80s).
I liked pepperoni, meatballs with ketchup, anything that didn't look like meat, and at the time, although neither I nor my parents knew it at the time--only if it was cured in sugar. Hot dogs I loved, McDonald's hamburgers I could tolerate (but not the ones made at home), and deep fried clams if I could dunk them in sweet tartar or cocktail sauce.
But overall, my mother, a woman who feared food, who had given so much of her life to caring for others that dieting was what she 'did for herself' made very boring meals that I rejected. Slightly pink chicken with paprika (the universal 80s seasoning in the suburbs). Lamb chops. I preferred to eat the mint jelly. And vegetables? My perennial failed New Year's Resolution (always gamely given,because I loved holidays) was to finish one tomato, one apple (unprocessed rather than refined sugar did not stimulate my discerning palate).
I was a sugar fiend.
I was the kid who would automatically throw away her lunch and snarf down an ice cream sandwich instead, running the cool texture of the vanilla against my tongue, eating some parts of the chocolate alone, stripping the top chocolate wafer off on other bites, other parts eaten like a proper sandwich. I fantasized when eating jelly beans or gum drops that I was eating jewels. When munching on M&Ms, or fishing multicolored marshmallows from a bowl of Lucky Charms, I had a certain order: the most populous ones, the commoners, would be eaten first, until only the best, usually the red or green, were left. It was like a play in my mind, how they quivered in fear of the mighty mouth of The Sugar Fiend.
Vanilla soft serve with sprinkles, the dessert cart at my mother's favorite restaurant, eclairs from Delicious Orchards' bakery...to me that was real food. To hell with protein, vitamins, and nutrients.
My mother served me celery and creamed spinach as after school treats, depending on the season. But I wouldn't really eat, not with pleasure, unless it was dessert.
And it didn't help that my parents tended to alternate between abundance and abstinence in their own eating styles. Although the one good thing they adhered to, they thought (you low-carbers will love this) was that sweets would make you fat...you could (at least according to my cheese-a-holic father) eat whatever you liked except sweets (and perhaps butter) and stay slim. Foods were magical--eliminate sweets, you will be thin, drink orange juice, you will be healthy forever, eat a bowl of Raisin Bran and well...you get the picture...
I suppose anti-obesity childhood advocates will blame my culture for this sweet tooth of mine. But I feel that it was hard-wired in my brain, to some degree. The theatricality, yes even the fussiness and precision of a slice of cake always out-rivaled some lump of tomato sauce on a piece of bread. Unless it was oily Pizza Hut, of course, loaded with that luscious sweetness the regular pizza parlor lacked...
Of course, my parents could only control my eating habits for so long. What happened when I could contemplate my own dietary structure.