I am not an expert on the effects sugar and gluten have on our bodies. I’ve read through pages and pages of research, some that sound reasonable and some that sound incredibly extreme. In the end, I only have my experience to share.
I was born in January 1976 to two loving and devoted parents, Art & Sheila. I have two younger sisters, Lorie & Marcia. My mom was a very busy full-time, stay at home mom. Daddy worked in sales & marketing and traveled most of the time. We spent a lot of time together, which has been the basis for my strong sense of family.
My mom would tell you that I was a skinny little kid. The doctors were concerned about my lack of weight gain. When I started kindergarten, I was 32 inches tall and, under doctors’ orders, my mom had to work really hard to get me up to 32 pounds. I was skin and bones back then.
I loved everything about school. An avid reader, I read more books than anyone in the entire school as a kindergartener. In fact, they sent me to first grade for reading instruction and I had my very own advanced spelling list. I remember that I often missed out on the ‘fun’ activities in class, like the bean bag dance and art time. It didn’t bother me, though, until I was in second grade and they sent me to third where everyone wrote in cursive.
I remember staring at the cursive alphabet, displayed neatly above the green chalk board, trying desperately to memorize the letters. I couldn’t read anything the other kids were writing. The social implications of being a second grader in a higher reading group than nearly all of the 3rd graders started to set in, too. None of the other kids talked to me. It didn’t help that the teacher, Miss Wholman, often just cast me aside to sit and stare, waiting for her to start reading groups. Clearly, I was not welcome in her classroom.
This was the first time I started to realize that I was somehow different than all of the other kids, a haunting awareness stayed with me for decades. Looking back through old family photos, this time in my life clearly shows my face getting a little rounder, my belly a little more pronounced.
At home, we were the center of my mom’s life. Everything she did was for us. Our life was active, full of bike riding, trips to the park, and family walks after dinner. Though Dad traveled through the week, many weekends we went camping in the hills of Ohio. Again, lots of activity including hiking, biking, and canoeing.
My mom cooked healthy dinners 7 nights a week except for the occasional Friday Pizza Night, which necessarily included a tossed salad. She never used prepackaged foods, like Hamburger Helper or Rice-A-Roni. Everything was made from scratch.
We got together with my mom’s family a couple of times a month for dinner. The women in her family are all very attractive and were never obese, but they’ve struggled with their weight. At some point the family dinner conversations started to center around fat, calories, and, yes, Weight Watcher Points.
Our neighborhood was very tight knit. My mom and her friends used to get together and do aerobics at different people’s homes. This was back before VCRs so they’d don their leotards and tights, set up the record player, and jump around to Jane Fonda. My mom let us stand in the back and try to follow along. The women laughed together at their lack of coordination while gasping to catch their breath. Exercise was always followed by a conversation about how many calories were burned, and then salad with some kind of fat-free dressing.
As I moved up to 3rd grade I continued to gain weight. As my weight increased, my mom did more and more to try to help me. Back then, the focus was so clearly on fat-free foods, which are generally loaded with sugar, and our pantry started to have a variety of fat-free desserts. I suspected that my eating was a little strange when I would eat spoonful after spoonful of sugar right out of the bowl and then pick chunks of brown sugar out of the bag, popping them right into my mouth.
Then, at age nine, came the unforgettable visit to Dr. Reuger’s office, our family pediatrician. Right in front of me, he told my mom to hide the Oreos and the ice cream or I was going to be as big as a house.
My mom did what any good mom would do. She followed his orders. What she didn’t know was that I could find anything she hid. It didn’t take long for her to figure this out, though, and she started to put signs on foods that she’d prepared to take to a get-together that said “DO NOT EAT!” I ate it anyway.
My 4th grade year, I was in Mrs. Camp’s class. She was tall and thin, with thick, straight, shoulder length hair that fell on her shoulders. Her bangs fell to the left side of her face and she continually restyled them with her fingers. A light and joy came through in her eyes. Every child felt safe in her class.
Mrs. Camp had a way of sharing herself with her students that made you feel connected to her in a deep way. As a kid, she was overweight. She told stories of her teacher who used to spray the fat kids with Lysol, telling them they smelled bad. She told stories of how the other kids made fun of her, how she was embarrassed to eat around other people. I related to everything she said and would often talk to her about my weight. Mrs. Camp gave me hope that someday my weight would change, but more importantly she let me know that I was valuable as a person regardless of my weight. I didn’t believe it but she did. That was enough.
She was actually my saving grace that year and the two years that followed. She was my 5th grade teacher as well and got a teaching position in middle school the year I moved to 6th grade. Still, I continued to gain weight. By this time, I weighed 130 pounds. Maybe not much for an adult but as a growing child, I was very round.