Thursday, April 29, 2010

old diets and scary movies

Last night, it took me over an hour to fall asleep, despite it being rather late and my having taken both trazodone (to help me sleep) and lorazepam (to stop my mind from racing while I was trying to get to sleep). So this was what I was thinking about when I couldn't sleep:

Four movies that scared me as a kid:

1. Some Sinbad movie (the sailor, not the comedian), which I realize now probably sported Ray Harryhausen monsters. The bungalow colony where we summered used to occasionally show a film outdoors, using the handball court wall as a screen. I was about six when they showed this Sinbad movie, and my problem was a big orange Cyclops, who I remember as making a sound like "oogle oogle oogle," though I may have added those "oogles" in my head. Very scary.

2. The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, probably on TV, also at the bungalow colony. I know it was during the summer because my brother and I slept on bunkbeds in the cottage, and I was afraid to look down at the lower bunk where he slept because I was afraid of seeing a big bubbling pod. We didn't have a TV in the bungalow so it must have been at a friend's. This might have been a couple of years after the Sinbad movie. The 1978 version of this movie wasn't nearly as good, though it featured a cute young Jeff Goldblum, and the recent remake with Nicole Kidman isn't even worth watching.

3. The Birds, on TV. I must have been somewhere between 9 and 11 years old, because I remember I was so scared that I had to sleep with my mother, who was between her two marriages. The thing that scared me so much about the movie, and still makes it very scary, is that there was never any explanation as to why the birds started behaving as they did. It wasn't like the movies where Whit Bissell explained that A-bomb tests in the area had caused spiders to grow to gigantic sizes or whatever (try to find a cheesy 50s sci-fi movie without Whit Bissell, I dare ya!).

I can't remember what the fourth movie was, or maybe it was only three. Hey, I was in bed thinking about this stuff between 3:30-4:30 am!


I was telling my doctor yesterday that I don't much go for diets that involve a lot of weighing and measuring, that I mostly know what's healthy and what isn't, and I try to eat smaller portions. But it made me think about some of the famous diet plans that I tried, and my mother did as well. My mother was definitely way too focused on food; she was constantly losing and putting on the same ten pounds, and she wasn't particularly overweight, maybe a size 10. Plus she always had a great shape, regardless. I haven't had a waistline in years.

The first one I remembered was the "Stillman" diet, also known as "The Doctor's Quick Weight Loss Diet," which was the title of the book that explained it all. As I recall, it was basically kind of like Atkins: all protein. It was the first diet that required drinking eight glasses of water a day, and though this is now considered pretty much common wisdom for anyone, dieting or not, it sounded awfully weird around 1970. This was way, way before people were carrying bottles of water around or even necessarily drinking all that much water. Consequently, there was much humor around drinking all that water, generally of the bathroom variety.

The other popular one I remember and tried was the Scarsdale Diet, which I think was the first popular low-fat diet. It was so popular that restaurants advertised that they had Scarsdale-friendly meals, even where I lived at the time, which was Binghamton, NY -- not the hippest or trendiest place. The author of the book, Dr. Herman Tarnower, was eventually killed by his sometime-girlfriend, a very proper-seeming schoolteacher named Jean Harris. (They were played quite well in a made-for-HBO movie by Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening.)

What sucks is that I wasn't even really overweight when I went on either of them. I was still in high school when I went on Stillman, and at 5'2, I don't think I was ever over 108 pounds. I can only imagine that my thinking was that if my mother felt she was fat enough to have to diet, I certainly was as well, since she always had a small waist and mine was less small.

I was maybe 19 or 20 when I did Scarsdale, and had maybe hit 115. Which was really not out of range. I don't remember ever having a particular goal weight or size.

Considering the example my mother set, it's a miracle I didn't end up anorexic, although she never commented on my weight or said I needed to be thinner. As I said, it was mostly me figuring that if she were "fat", I was, too. Power of example.

The other example she set, which was the one that I think really hurt me, was that she could eat tons and often enjoyed doing so. I remember one occasion when she and her then-boyfriend ended up at dinner with a guy named Gerry Philbin, who played for either the Jets or Giants, one of the area football teams, and she out-ate the football guy. As I remember her telling the story, they all ate huge steaks, but then she had a hunk of apple pie and Philbin didn't. She could pack it away if she wanted to, even though she was as short as I am. I guess she would eat monstrous amounts, gain the ten pounds, and then diet it off. Can you say "eating disorder"?

My mother died at 45 of metastasized breast cancer, and I later theorized that she might have become alcoholic. They say that two drinks a day every day sort of puts you on a "watch list," and she always had a scotch when she got home from work and a glass of wine with dinner. Sometimes two glasses of wine with dinner, and a nice cordial after. Especially after she married my stepfather and began to entertain more, my mother loved to serve after-dinner drinks like sweet liquors (so there's your sugar and your booze): brandy, Drambuie, B&B, and so on. I was fond of that stuff myself, and as a teen, I was permitted to join in with the adults' "social" drinking, the wine with dinner and the after-dinner drinks. I was always fascinated by alcohol from a young age, so this was also not to best example for me. My mother was only doing what she was doing -- that is, she did the best she could -- but I also think she was more motivated by what she wanted rather than the effect it would have on me.

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