I wouldn't describe my childhood as typical, but I would describe it as challenging. I grew up moving from place to place. I was a bicoastal child, going back and forth from New York to Los Angeles until the age of six, then living all over the place. In New York, we lived in Manhattan, Forest Hills, Rockville Centre, Old Westbury, and Locust Valley. We also lived in Boston, Florida, and Los Angeles. I went to thirteen different schools. I had no stability whatsoever, no structure, no regular meals, and nothing to instill a healthy attitude about food. I ate almost all my meals in restaurants.
My mother loved and hated food at the same time. At least, that's how it seemed to me, and I think her bad habits inspired me to develop a healthier lifestyle, so I could be different than she was. But her food obsessions also stuck to me. I admit I am a type A person who tends to get a bit obsessive about things, and I've spent plenty of years of my life obsessing about food and working hard to be thin. In fact, I've been watching my weight since grade school. My mother's father instilled in her that fat wasn't an option, so my mother was just passing along a family tradition when she instilled these food attitudes in me.
As for my father, he was never really around. He was a horse trainer, as was my stepfather, so I spent a lot of time at the track as a kid. That wasn't such a great example. I started visiting the betting window at age six. In many ways, I had to raise myself. That made developing a healthy ego pretty tough. Like a lot of kids, I had a chubby adolescent phase, but unlike a lot of mothers, my mother took me to an obesity clinic when I was nine. It was immediately clear to me that gaining weight was not acceptable. For years afterward, my weight fluctuated, but dieting was always in the forefront of my mind, from an early age. I remember my mother seeing an overweight girl and commenting that if this were her child, she would lock the girl in a closet and send in water on a tray. That made an impression on me, even though I knew she was joking (sort of). Being fat wasn't an option.
At the same time, we were always eating in restaurants or getting takeout Chinese food or pizza. In other words, my mother rarely cooked. The only meals I remember that seemed home-prepared were the bagels we ate every Sunday morning. I was eating escargots by the age of four. Kids' menu? I never knew such a thing existed.
I loved food. And yet, I also feared it. By the age of ten, I already knew all about the Beverly Hills Diet. I obsessed about food, and pushed it away, too. I remember ripping out the diet pages in magazines from a very young age; and over the years, I've tried all the diets. The Beverly Hills Diet, the Eat Your Weight in Fruit Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, Weight-Watchers, Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, the Flight Attendant's Diet (at the time, it was called the Stewardess Diet), the Grapefruit Diet, Slim-Fast, the Zone, Diet Center, Diet Designs, the Raw Food Diet, and every other diet I happened to run across in a magazine.
I like to think of myself as an intelligent person, and yet I kept on dieting. It was a way of life, one that I inherited from my mother, and one that she inherited from her father, who also made sure she understood that being fat was not an option.