Rachel F. Wanetik

Holocaust fat

'Eat when you're hungry,' her new mantra flies in the face of her upbringing, and that's just fine

I’m fat because of the Holocaust.

Autocorrect seems to think “Holidays” is a more appropriate reason — and what is predictive texting if not another anti-Semitic Holocaust-denying entity?

Whereas fat was once revered, an outward sign of opulence and health, in modernity I’m expected to not exceed 125 lbs. on my 5’2” build, yet genetics and trauma dictate otherwise. Also, indulging in dessert is far more appealing than sweating to the Oldies.

With each passing year, another couch-potato friend joins the ranks of those sporting bright orange marathon-participant shirts. I joke that I will run when the wild dogs are chasing me, and would you believe it? The canines showed up in my neighborhood! Science says exercise alone will not alter my shape. And perhaps diet combined with exercise is also futile in that pursuit. Maybe I can lay blame on the influences from media and the world in which I grew up on what perfection looks like?

Born in the 70s, child of the 80s: I was never thin. If memory serves, thin wasn’t IN. Or maybe it was; and somehow it didn’t affect me. For many blissful years, until very recently, I boasted a healthy relationship with my body.

Really, I have a predicament. When I look in the mirror: I tend to like what I see. I think I’m more (LESS!) than the sum of my parts and collectively more attractive than: the weight I carry, the rolls and the creases, the visible scars and the stretchmarks, the red-violet spots (like my mom, a child of a survivor) and the sunspots (like Grandma, the one who was lucky to escape all the atrocities).

Could I be diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder, but in the opposite way of its current definition? Is positive body image an illness? What if the positivity is based on a false sense of reality?

My clothes say I’m average; a US size 12. I’m overweight for today’s standards. Ideas of the ideals. Who’s setting the bar anyway? Where IS the nearest bar?

And don’t get me started on my issues with BMI where “BM” is synonymous with “BS.”

I don’t know when or why my mirror cheated me of ignorance. I think it was a gradual process and photographs taken at insulting angles definitely tipped the scales toward negativity. I’m not entirely sure if my age, living among significantly younger couples with similarly aged children as ours, or a legitimate concern that my health will be affected by the body I have, has soured my outer self image. Are the deaths of family members influencing insights into where I come from and where I am headed?

I eat because of the Holocaust.

It seems to be a pathological continuation of stress and trauma, down to the cellular level. Someone, somewhere, is studying all sorts of PTSD on an atomic level, and what was the war, if not an atomic catastrophe, waiting to happen.

My mother was instructed to eat everything on her plate because perhaps, tomorrow, there would be no food. In my upbringing, there was only a smidgen of this nuttiness when we sat at the kitchen table — not enough to egg on an eating disorder, just enough to serve me in writing this piece.

Mom, not known for her sauteing skills, often encouraged me to try vegetables. No matter which variety, each was set forth in the same shade of uninspiring, drab olive-green lifelessness, which could only be consumed with a dollop of some mayonnaise-based accompaniment.

As an adult, I have familiarized my being with the edible spectrum of colors. I now possess the knowledge that the past is oft remembered in muted tones. This mixed palate/palette of yore and now reveals the omnipresence of gray-shadowed clouds of sadness, PTSD undercurrents, and the 50 shades of blatant psychosis, which, at that time, largely went unnoticed. Looking back, I wonder if it all could be attributed to our aversion to using a lot of salt.

Breakfast was the bounty for completing a successful visit to to the bathroom. My therapist thought it weird that there was a Freudian obsession with an elimination ritual, but maybe Mom was onto something. Getting rid of excess and toxins was a, if not the, natural part of living. “Just sit there and make” was her motto.

Back to the other end.

Sunny-sides and toast. Or a mixture of fresh fruit, cottage cheese, and sour cream, topped with a spoonful of sugar. Cream of Wheat in the winter. Never cold cereal. Sometimes Mom’s famous bumpy cheesecake. Always black tea.

Weekend lunch breaks were sardines from a can, garden tomatoes wedges, sliced onion, and a slice of dark German bread. Occasionally, someone fried up from-the-package pierogies or Dad made his awesome, always slightly different, crepe-style pancakes. There was dinner at the family table every night. There were some mainstays like schnitzel, colloquially chicken cutlets, and Mom’s delectable chicken soup. In addition to the mainstay of pasta night in the form of buttery spaghetti (no meatballs), and Parmesan in a shaker, there was takeout Chinese from our local place.

About a month ago, after mulling over the food, supplement, and water intake suggestions of my super health- and food-conscious friend’s guru, a truth took hold. I began to digest the idea that maybe I was eating breakfast (and other meals) because I was accustomed to doing so — not because I was particularly hungry. So I had food for thought: with a pinch of pre-planning, I could dash out the door without consuming a full meal and — gasp! — no actual war would ensue on my way to work. Not because of me not eating breakfast anyway.

Today, there is little sit-down meal time with my young family. Perhaps it is a sign of the times or a fear of setting unsustainable long-term proper habits.

We five prefer to graze, like free-range cattle out of their boxcars.

I’m sure we are losing a key piece of bonding around the dinner table, yet I’m hopeful I’m stopping potential eating disorders in their tracks. Eat when you are hungry, and what you eat is worth its weight in gold, a currency my family was willing to trade for the chance to live.

War wounds run deep. I am an orphan. When I travel back to the place of my upbringing, there is no home to visit, nor to speak of. The insides have been gutted, the outer shell refaced — someone else lives there now; I don’t know who that is.

I eat, live and breathe here. I am conscientiously turning the tables, listing the instructions in a new hierarchy of importance, I am actively concocting a new recipe for life, first breathe, live, and love, and only then, eat. And drink. A lot of water. Israel. Home.

About the Author
Rachel F. Wanetik (@gmail) couldn't have pivoted from Trash or Treasure, a litter cleanup activity and garbage talk at Jerusalem community gardens, to ReeLife Lessons (@gmail), an online series of classes, because it's all educational. Therefore she'll call it an offshoot program 'cause it sounds more nature-like, and she wants nothing more than to share her ideas with whomever wants to listen.
Related Topics
Related Posts