Kathleen Irene Paterka
How "Just a Little Slice" of Pumpkin Pie Helped me Lose 100 lbs.
It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving rolls around, and we’re encouraged to count our blessings, listing the things for which we’re grateful. We’re also encouraged to focus on food. More explicitly, to focus on feasting. For most of us (especially me), Thanksgiving meant feasting on turkey, stuffing, and all the trimmings. And especially dessert. We’re talking pumpkin pie, with plenty of whipped crème.
There I was, a fat little kid, a sugar fanatic, graduating from high school at 300 lbs. Somehow during college, I’d managed to diet off some of the weight, but my obsession with food continued. For someone like me, obsessed with food (cakes! cookies! candy! chocolate!) and battling a weight problem all my life, Thanksgiving signified the kick-off of a months-long binge. First came Turkey Day with all the trimmings, followed by a mid-December birthday replete with cake decked out in holiday swirls and whipped crème frosting poinsettias. Christmas candy and cookies (gingerbread boys!), and a New Year’s Day celebration promising fresh beginnings (but not until you clean your plate). February ushered in Valentine’s Day, with heart-shaped boxes of luscious chocolates. St. Patrick’s Day, Easter… the list continues. I don’t need to go on. Here’s the simple truth: people like me – people obsessed with food – don’t need a reason to eat. Holidays are merely a convenient excuse to gorge ourselves. Which is what I’d been doing until one day in 1988, two days before Thanksgiving, when the truth smacked me in the face surely as I’d been hit by a fragrant pumpkin pie.
Then one night, dejected by the thought of yet another cycle of holiday binging, I walked into yet another “diet-and-calories-club” weight loss meetings. I’d tried losing weight with their method years before, though I hadn’t been successful. Why did I think it would work this time? But I had to do something to tackle my food obsession. I stepped on the scale, cringing as the 200+ lbs. mark registered. I’d suspected the ugly truth, and now I knew for sure. It wouldn’t take long at all to eat my way back up to 300 lbs. What was I going to do?
The leader of the meeting got up to speak. She spoke about food management and healthy eating. She shared diet tips. By the time she opened the meeting for questions, I was miserable. Why had I bothered to show up at this meeting? I’d heard nothing that would help me survive Thanksgiving or the next few months of holidays.
“How do I manage Thanksgiving dinner?” a fellow dieter asked.
“Don’t be afraid to eat turkey!” the leader replied. “It’s a lean meat packed with protein.”
Another women raised her hand. “What about the rest of the meal?”
The leader smiled. “Fill up on vegetables. In fact, eat all you want. Green beans, potatoes, a salad. What’s not to like?”
I wasn’t encouraged by her words. The problem wasn’t the turkey and the trimmings. For me, the real feast at Thanksgiving came served in a pie tin.
“What about dessert?” someone said. “I love pumpkin pie. How do I manage that?”
Finally! The answer to my dieting dilemma! I straightened in my chair, waiting intently to be enlightened by the leader’s words of wisdom. Then she smiled. “Oh, desserts are easy," she said. "You can indulge yourself, just like everyone else. When it comes to the pumpkin pie, just have a little slice.”
A little slice? A LITTLE SLICE? !!! Was she serious? You don’t tell someone like me to “just have a little slice.” That would never work. Because even as I’m eating that “little slice,” I’d already be eyeing the other half slice still in the pie tin, wondering how I could scarf it up without anyone noticing. And what about after dinner, when the family and friends finally leave, and the kitchen is empty? Guaranteed I’d be right there in front of the refrigerator, gobbling up the rest of the pie, plus all the other yummy leftovers.
Her advice might be perfectly fine for normal people; but for food addicts like me, “just a little slice” is the stuff which leads to insanity. As I left the diet meeting that night, I swore to myself I would never go back. I’d given them a second chance, but they couldn’t help me. No one could help. The next six months were a nightmare. I ate my way through a mountain of food, which did nothing to take away my despair. I knew I was dying inside – emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually – as I tried to forget the ugly truth about myself which I’d faced that night at the diet club. The truth that “just a little slice” was never going to work. The truth that my brain is wired different. When it comes to food, my thinking is broken. Somewhere along the way, I lost my “normal” and I can never go back.
Time to move on, Kathleen.
Then one day, while reading the newspaper, I caught notice of another type of meeting for people compulsive about food. On May 29, 1989, I went to that meeting. Not a diet-and-calories-club, but a 12-step recovery meeting for people obsessed with food. From the very beginning, I felt at home. The things I heard at that meeting gave me hope. I could live a life free from the food compulsion. How? By turning my food and my life over to a power greater than myself. By reminding myself that I was not alone; that there were many others like me; that the best thing I could do for myself each day was to get down on my knees and say Thank You for the people and things already in my life; Thank You for the things I will be given and shown this day; Thank You in advance for the future blessings that will come my way.
To live a life filled with gratitude instead of consumed with thoughts of pumpkin pie. My heart soared as I came to realize how blessed I am. Even this food obsession, which I no longer regret, is a blessing in my life. Food was there when I needed it, helping me to survive and become the woman I am today. For many years, I used food in ways for which it was never designed: as emotional support, to comfort me, to stave off boredom, to block irrational fears. My first book, FATTY PATTY, was about a woman just like me, obsessed with food. And just like Patty, the best thing I ever did for myself was to put down the fork and give my heart a try.
Happy Thanksgiving to you. Whatever way you choose to celebrate, I hope it’s happy and joyous. Enjoy your feast and a slice (or two if you like) of pumpkin pie. As for me, I’ve celebrated by writing this blog post and indulging myself with a few extra words. As blogs go, the experts recommend no more than 600-700 words, and this one weighs in at a hefty 1,000+ words plus. Please forgive me. You see, it's Thanksgiving, and I just couldn’t bear to put today’s blog on a diet.