The Hardest Day of My Diet? The Family Picnic
On his journey to losing 90 pounds, one writer shares the challenges of eating healthy amidst the peer pressure of his family.
Zooming down the interstate, I gazed at the familiar sight of acres upon acres of corn, soybeans and cattle. My metropolitan life was in the rearview mirror and my picturesque, pastoral past was before me, if only for an afternoon. It had been months since I had last visited my mom, grandparents and a host of other extended family members, and I was honestly looking forward to returning to that simpler life for a brief time to celebrate Mom’s birthday.
However, there was one aspect to this visit that I was most definitely not looking forward to. For the previous several months, I’d been on a very strict diet. My goal was to lose 90 pounds before my forthcoming wedding. Without a doubt, it was the hardest thing I had ever done. Yet, I didn’t call it quits like so many other dieters I had known because I had a very clear motivation. My father died when I was 12 years old, partially due to obesity. When I proposed to my now-wife, I proposed that I would not let the same thing happen to her that had happened to my mom.
Like so many gatherings for so many families, mine always featured food as the starring attraction. My grandparents had worked the land themselves for years to raise cattle, pigs, chickens and produce. Who could blame them for taking pride in what they had worked so hard for? Part of our food tradition also included using old Jello salad recipes and homemade ice cream recipes that went back four generations—now, ironically for me, recipes for disaster. I had explained this to my family before I made the decision to visit. I earnestly wanted to warn them that I would not be eating the same way that I always had. Still, I knew it wouldn’t be that easy.
My Family Was Not Prepared for My Weight Transition
When I said the word diet, it meant something very different to my family than it did to me. I can’t recall any of my male relatives ever owning up to going on a diet, but for my mom, aunts and other female relatives, a diet was something you tried out for a few weeks to lose a pound or two before giving it up at the first available holiday gathering. They would never even think of losing a life-changing amount like 90 pounds. That was something you only saw in commercials.
As I pulled into the county park where we were gathering, I could easily spot where our family was situated. Coolers lined the concrete-floored pavilion as Grandma comically tried to spread table cloths over the dirty picnic tables in spite of the breeze. As I got out of my car, she finished the table she was working on and came over to give me a hug.
“Wow, you look so—so different!” she said.
My sister was less tactful. She looked up from her phone with a contorted expression on her face and said, “You look weird. I liked you better when you were fat.”
“Well,” I said hesitantly, “I’m afraid you’re going to have to get used to this. I’m not planning on going back.”
As the visit progressed, it seemed more and more like my family took my commitment as a challenge. As dish after dish was passed before me, the temptation of the food was multiplied exponentially by the remarks that accompanied them.
“Who eats a hamburger without a bun? How are you even supposed to eat it?”
“Surely just one scoop won’t hurt.”
“I’m worried about you. You’ve got to eat something!”
All of these comments were spoken in love. I know my family cares for me, just as I care deeply for them. However, my desire to please my family only made saying no that much more difficult. To reject the cooking felt like a rejection of the cook.
I Gave in (a Little) to My Grandma’s Ice Cream
Then came the greatest challenge of all. Grandma brought out a Crock-Pot filled with delicious homemade ice cream. As the scorching summer sun baked the world around me, the cool, creamy goodness, with four generations of tradition, called my name. I would like to tell you that I overcame the temptation. I would like to say that I passed on the ice cream and reached for another cucumber slice instead. Sadly, that would be a lie.
When Grandma asked how much I wanted, I told her to hold the birthday cake and just give me a “little bit” of ice cream. Grandma plopped one scoop in a styrofoam bowl and reached back into the crock for more. I knew that she wouldn’t even start to question whether I had enough until another four or five scoops were in the bowl, so I quickly told her that one scoop was fine and graciously took the bowl from her hands.
She commented that I wasn’t taking very much and offered more, but I declined. I looked down at the bowl and realized that she was right. There weren't more than two respectable spoonfuls to be seen. Knowing my window of opportunity was short in the sweltering heat, I quickly went to work on my small indulgence.
Rejecting Food Can Often Feel Like Rejecting Family
If you’ve ever been on a diet, you know that the first bite off of the diet is always the best. My experience was no exception. Those two bites were the best bites of ice cream I had ever eaten, bar none.
I looked up from my bliss to see that I had finished eating before everyone had even been served. Grandma noticed my empty bowl and, of course, asked if I wanted more. I opened my mouth to ask for “just a little bit more,” but I stopped myself short. I thought of my dad, my fiancee and the commitment I had made. “No thanks, Grandma,” I said, smiling. “It was delicious though,” and I reached for another slice of cucumber.
I went on to complete my goal of losing 90 pounds just in time to enjoy Christmas cookies at Grandpa and Grandma’s farm (in moderation, of course). Although every day of the diet was a challenge, I still consider that birthday party to be the day I won the battle over my weight. Saying no to food is a difficult thing to do, but saying no to family is almost impossible.