I've never been much of a dieter.
That's not to say there haven't been times that I would have liked to lose a little weight, I just never found an easy "diet" way to do it.
There was a time in college when I was living abroad and I thought I was fattening up so I decided I would eat only broccoli and white rice to slim down. I imagined myself 10 pounds thinner, bone skinny.
The plan didn't work, go figure. I kept the roundness in my cheeks, the slightly extra padding under my chin and the softness in my arms. I was a perfectly healthy weight, but I was frustrated and unsatisfied with my body.
I didn't like that extra padding and roundness. It was the first thing I saw in the mirror and in photos of myself. So when a friend tried a new diet, an actual diet, I decided to give it a go.
I bought the book, read it cover to cover, and resolved to follow the plan — sort of. I modified it for myself, but still ate copious amounts of dates, corn on the cob and fresh pineapple per the book's instructions.
After a few days, I was sick as a dog and not any skinnier, so I threw the book away. I simultaneously questioned my ability to follow through with tasks and felt embarrassed that I'd tried such a ridiculous thing in the first place.
But most of all, I was aggravated that no matter how healthy my body was, no matter what state of softness or tautness I was in, I wasn't satisfied. And I felt like I wasn't supposed to be.
I was supposed to look at myself every New Year and make a resolution to change something about myself, just like everyone else. The conversation was never about appreciation and acceptance, it was about modifying and improving.
Not that there's anything wrong with improving, but generations of women have heard and acted on the same dictum, and I think it could be time to change the message and accept ourselves as good enough, already.
My grandmother Fleeta Choate, who died before I was born, was a healthy-looking woman. She was a little on the stout side, with my round cheeks and soft chin, but she looked sturdy.
And she was busy. She had two sons, a husband, a full-time job, a full-time education, full-time talents and a full-time battle with cancer. She was active and had to be energetic to keep up with all of that.
But she must have thought she needed some improving, too. In her trusty Women's Home Companion Cook Book, she kept photocopies and clips of diets that she came across, alongside the recipes for raised doughnuts and delicate lemon pie.
The cookbook itself came with advice on proper nutrition and tips on how to lose weight. For breakfast on a Sunday, it suggested serving melon, eggs in nests with bacon, whole-wheat muffins with jelly and hot cocoa for the children. For supper, you might have Coquilles St. Jacques, a mixed green salad with Parisian dressing, scones with jam, milk and a layer cake for dessert.
It sounds good to me.
If you need to reduce your weight, the book suggests that you limit your calorie intake and drink one pint of skim milk or buttermilk a day, limit bread to three slices a day, use no more than one tablespoon of butter or margarine per day and, "let the rest of the family enjoy the gravies, sauces, and special salad dressing."
I can't get in my grandmother's head and know exactly what she was thinking about her diet, but I can acknowledge all that she accomplished and know that her weight didn't diminish any of it. In fact, I admire her frame as a picture of normalcy.
She was a woman with a normal body, doing extraordinary things. Maybe that's the New Year's message I want my daughter to hear every year — you can be extraordinary, no matter what you weigh, no matter what you look like.
Next time, I'll tell you about another extraordinary woman and what she had in common with my grandmother as far as dieting is concerned.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.