PART 1 – Confessions of a Junk Food Junkie – Eating in “The Hood”

by Susan Szollosi

In my third year of college, my roommates came home one day with a present for me. “Open it”, they said. Inside was a white T-shirt with the words “Junk Food Junkie” spray-painted across the front. I stared at the large neon green and orange script and forced out a puzzled, “Thanks.”

“Doesn’t everyone eat this way?” I asked.

“No” was their answer.

*   *   *

So, my road to recovery all started last summer with my weakness for a good deal. That, and the fact that I had really been letting myself go…big time. I had embarked upon a downward spiral of making meals out of spicy Dorito chips dripping with hot sauce, sour gummy bears, and Junior mints; a great combination for watching my favorite evening TV shows. It was a savory reward for a hard day at work. Add a beer or two… or three, and the temporary bliss would be worth the extra pounds, fogginess, and disrespect sure to arrive by the first commercial break. Panic would set in if the junk food drawers in the pantry were running low, or if the freezer was down to its last box of popsicles. I had given up on myself after years of failed diets and high hopes.

I completely understand if you think I’m crazy, and choose to stop reading at this point. But even if you think you eat pretty healthy and are able to make it through the day with half a tank, I’d advise you to keep reading to see what a full tank feels like.

Nothing I tried in the last decade or so could pull me out of this insanity. Every diet book, gimmick, and honest attempt at portion control brought me back to the drawing board inside of day two. I even sucked on a pill once that would make the best brownie in town, taste like the chef forgot to add the sugar. I had earned my way into a front row seat at the cellulite show.

For several years, I’d complained about the scale getting jammed around the 140-142 mark. I couldn’t make it go down no matter how hard I willed it to. I’m 5’8”, and by standards, I was at a healthy weight. People would always tell me what great shape I was in. What did they know? They didn’t feel the way I felt, or witness the heavy breathing and rapid heartbeat as I trudged up the stairs. Just because you don’t look overweight, it doesn’t mean you’re in good shape, I’d tell them, but no one seemed to believe me. In fact, I knew I could just plain get away with my self-destructive habits as long as I stayed away from shrinking belts and clothes that needed to be tucked in.

I was always a skinny kid. In fact, my English Mum was skinny too. Back in the 50’s growing up in Detroit; it wasn’t all that appealing to be super thin so Mum made sure to include candy bars, chips, and cream cheese along with the Vlasic mild and mellow yellow peppers, and a chicken leg in my lunch bag every day.

While other kids brought the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a thermos of Campbell’s vegetable soup, and an “apple”, they marveled at how I could cram a whole bar of Philadelphia cream cheese in my mouth on one try. I remember feeling sorry for the kids who got stuck every day with an apple in their Howdy Doody lunch box, thinking it must be because they couldn’t afford a candy bar.

Some of this stuff sticks with you for a while. Even through high school, my elementary school friends delighted in calling me, Suzy Creamcheese. Frank Zappa’s fictional vocalist Suzy Creamcheese didn’t do me any favors in that department. Every time his 60’s Mothers of Invention band came on, the kids would all look in my direction to make eye contact and give me the cream cheese smile. It wasn’t so bad.

Mum worked all day, and Dad all night. Dad’s graveyard shift allowed him to make sure I got off to school with a good breakfast of crust-free white toast and jam or my favorite sugary cereal. After school, Dad was always ready for me around 3pm with a nice bowl of Chef-Boyardee canned spaghetti or a lard sandwich to hold me over until dinner.

When Mum got home from work around 5:30pm, she slaved over a hot stove, cooking the liver and onions beyond recognition while the canned green beans bubbled relentlessly on the back burner. Mum always promised a sweet dessert if I could make it through the “healthy” stuff. Even that ratty little bug-eyed Chihuahua, Mickey, who was supposed to sub as a sibling, wouldn’t eat the leftovers.

Then of course, it would be time for Liberace or the Twilight Zone after dinner. I knew Mum wouldn’t let me starve in front of the TV. No, not the kid she was trying to fatten up. So out would come the bowl of thick, onion-salted cream cheese dip along with a big bowl of salty potato chips and king-sized Cadbury milk chocolate bars. I don’t ever remember seeing a piece of fruit in the house. Maybe that’s why I’ve always chosen candy and cake over any type of fruit my whole life, and wished I’d had dental insurance all these years.

Mum did have one specialty that Dad and I looked forward to though. Homemade Spam burgers. I can still feel my teeth sinking into the crunchy bun, anticipating the hot lava mixture squirting out the sides. Waking up to the sound of the meat grinder, grinding out cans of Spam, Velveeta cheese, onions, and plenty of salt, would have me running to the kitchen to watch the fat-laden worms gush their way through the small holes. Mum would then spoon the saturated concoction neatly into a white-bread bun, wrap it with wax paper, and bake in a 350 oven until the wax melted. “You can have as many as you like,” Mum would say as I sat in front of the oven, waiting for the wax paper to turn dark.

Mum didn’t drink, but apparently I did. Each night I’d get a thumb-sized class of sweet, dark red Mogan-David wine before bed, something I grew quite fond of. It seems my pediatrician, good ole Dr. Bernbaum, thought it would make me a stronger kid. Who knows where I’d be without it.

Mum tried everything to fatten me up. Nothing seemed to help. Not the thick layers of oleo on the soft white bread, or even the cream she would scrape off the top of the bottled milk that the milkman left in the milk-box every Saturday morning. I was a lost cause in Mum’s economical decision to buy my clothes two sizes too big…just in case.

I went off to college at 17. They say the first year is called “The Freshman Ten.”  Cafeteria food and all would put ten pounds on. Nope. While I watched all the other girls fill out and grow breasts, mine declared permanent residency in my worn junior high brassieres.

There was finally a glimmer of hope when I heard that beer put on weight. So I dated a guy in a fraternity. A stellar plan. I must have been having a pretty good time, because a month later, I picked up mono and had to leave college my freshman 1st semester for a couple of months or so. Mono led to strep throat, and strep led to the hard measles. I spent my 18th birthday in a dark bedroom, visualizing giant spiders crawling up the walls. Mum, hoping to cheer me up brought in trays of my favorite Campbell soups for about two weeks, each time tightening the curtains, Heaven forbid a stream of light would come in and blind me through the measles process. With no TV and no books, an occasional hallucination caught my eye, making the experience almost tolerable with the 20 or so stuffed animals and crackhead-looking dolls that had somehow made it through my childhood, still on my bed.

I finally went back to college for the January 1969 semester with a fresh beginning. Most of my clothes had been worn by my roommate whose chest you could see coming around the corner before the rest of her body. I was off to another bad start.

I started dating a guy named “Greg”, who called himself a “G.D.I.” God Damned Independent, he used to brag. The G.D.I.’s hated fraternities. And they didn’t “drink.” So I stayed skinny for another four years while we dated. Then we got married at 21, separated at 21, and divorced at 23. And yes, I was still skinny, damn non-drinkers.

Eight years later, I ran into Mr. Fraternity on the ski slopes of Boyne Mountain, in Michigan. Yeah, it was the same guy who was going to fatten me up at 17, had I not come down with mono. How do you only date two guys in college, and marry them both? That’s right; “Gary” and I got married too. We had three kids together in the nine years we were married. With each of those pregnancies, I gained about 50 pounds. Mum would be proud. Then I lost it all and, you guessed it, I was skinny again. The hint of a size B brassiere was back down to a AA as well.

Gary and I moved to Louisville, Colorado, just outside the Republic of Boulder when I was pregnant with our third child, our daughter Riann. Boulder expects you to be skinny. It’s filled with athletes, vegans, and intellectuals. Like Detroit. Somehow, they mistook me for one of them until they found out I didn’t “work out”. So I looked up the terminology, and joined a “club.”

Gary and I parted ways after ten years. It was a shame. He didn’t like to work out either, and I respected that about him. And yes, I was still skinny towing three little kids around. I was still living in Boulder County and being skinny wasn’t enough. You had to be “fit.” So I went to that fitness club and worked out five days a week, ran 4 miles a day, marveled at my muscular cut limbs, and had become “fit”.

At 35, I met Alex, who was 5’ 10 ½”, 172 pounds of solid muscle, and worked out three times a day. Uh huh. And you thought I was weird. Twenty-five years later, I can still see his muscular body thrusting up out of the gym pool for a breath of air after a long underwater swim. Somehow, he must have gotten the wrong impression of me and assumed that I enjoyed working out. Something he thought we’d have in common when he asked me to marry him. Apparently he’d never been to Detroit.

We soon married and had a son together, Max, turning us into a family of six. I gained another 52 pounds during that pregnancy, and lost the weight again. I took aerobic classes, ran, lifted weights, danced, and just plain moved a lot. Not that I really liked it, but again, it was Boulder and I was now burdened with a husband training for a triathlon.

By the time I was 49, I was in the best shape I’d ever been in, probably because our daughter Riann was modeling, and I traveled with her for about five years. It seemed like a good idea to keep fit around the vivacious and young, gorgeous models. I ate pretty healthy, drank little, worked out, felt good and looked great.

Be careful what you wish for. The last time I saw skinny; I had looked in the mirror and said, “I almost wish I had a weight problem so that I would have a challenge.” Who the hell says something like that? That’s when God must have been listening and got ticked off. Over the next few years, it all started to go downhill. My daughter stopped modeling, Alex’s hips were bothering him and his exercise routine became limited-to-none which seemed to work well as my excuse too. My eating habits shifted to infinite amounts of junk food, leaving me constantly tired and lazy, hopeless, depressed, disinterested, and hungry all the time. I began to drink wine while cooking dinner, and beer during my evening’s recorded shows, not much thinking about it being all that different from drinking water.

I had lost all respect for food, and apparently for myself as well. By my mid to late fifties, I wondered who I was looking at in the mirror. My beautiful muscles had been replaced by flab and cellulite, I looked tired, my belly and butt had grown, my hair was graying, and my clothes no longer fit. I even had a bigger cup size. Big deal. I was exiting life early, and it was happening fast.

I’m now 61. It’s a weird number. I’ve seen a wide range of 61 and some of it ain’t pretty. Over the last five or so years, I experienced a few rock-bottom disgust levels that prompted me to join a variety of gyms, thinking I could “get it back.” That lasted a month or less. Reason being, I’d always get sick right after I started working out. I never realized that it might be because my malnourished body just couldn’t handle it.

Last year, I signed up on the Internet to receive Groupon and Living Social deals. I mean, why not? If I can buy something for half the price I’d normally pay, why wouldn’t I? Then one day in June 2011, there it was. It said, “30-day detox and cleanse $45.00 – Normally a $100 value.” The good deal had caught me in a moment of weakness. Our daughter would be getting married in three months and I could look better in the pictures. The 140-ish pounds I had grumbled about for the last five years had risen at least another five to seven and for sure, nothing in my closet fit now. If I couldn’t lose the weight in the three months before the wedding, I’d have to admit failure and buy something in a bigger size. How far could this escalate?

I hesitated, as the bright blue “Buy Now” button seemed to expand. Frosty beers, thin-crust pepperoni pizzas, and warm gooey chocolate chip cookies strutted through my mind, waving a sad farewell. Just as the nachos, burgers, and margaritas joined in, I quickly hit the button. On a previous purchase, I must have let the website hold my credit card info, because my confirmation number came right up congratulating me on my purchase. I wonder what I just bought? I thought. Then came the realization that it really didn’t matter. It would be just another wasted spend on something that had to do with me trying to change my life again.

Keep going, I told myself. Call the woman you will soon come to hate. I dialed. It rang. And rang. And then, “Hi, this is Heidi with Energetic Chiropractics. I’m not able to take your call right now but please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you. Have a great day,” it said. Sure, I’ll have a great day just as long as you don’t call me back, I thought. And she didn’t.

*   *   *

Six months later, in December, after a full summer of planning our daughter’s September wedding and the usual hectic holidays, I was going through some old paperwork and discovered it. Oh my gosh, it’s that cleanse I paid for. My eyes widened as I noticed the expiration date. It would expire in just two days, on New Year’s Eve. There’s no way she’ll take me now, I thought. She’s probably on vacation and when she gets back it will be too late.

I was now up to 154 lbs. Since purchasing the cleanse in June, I had put on almost another 10 pounds. God was apparently still irritated. It was the most I’d ever weighed. And yes, I did buy a new dress in a bigger size for the wedding, if you’re wondering.

I cleared away the excess piles of unread paperwork at my computer to make room for any note taking, in case I might have to speak directly with “Heidi.” Surely, someone with a name like Heidi would be forgiving. It seemed like such a happy name. There was no answer. I left a message.

The next day, I called again. No answer. This time I left a message suggesting that she give me a call at the beginning of the New Year, stating that it would no doubt work best for the both of us.

Five days later, on January 3rd I got the call that changed my life. I was actually speaking to an apologetic Heidi, who indeed, was as happy as her name sounded. I was set to go in that Friday, January 6, 2012 at 10am.

*   *   *

“Are you sure she won’t mind if you bring me?” Alex asked, pounding down a bowl of cereal the size of a mixing bowl, and mounded with frozen berries.

“I’m sure if you just sit there and listen, she won’t mind. She sounded really nice on the phone.”

“Does this mean if I decide to do this cleanse, we have to start today?” His spoon was tapping the bowl, scraping the last bits as if doing so would magically produce more cereal.

“No, we’ll get the information and when we both decide we’re ready and have everything we need, we’ll start, okay?”

“Good, because I was thinking we could get BBQ or Pasta Jay’s since we’ll be in Boulder anyway for this thing.”

My taste buds wigged out just thinking about how I would dip the buttery garlic bread into the hot mozzarella, melting over the creamy Alfredo sauce that caressed the noodles below. But why choose? We could hit Pasta Jay’s for lunch, then for dinner we could pick up a pulled pork sandwich with extra sauce, baked beans, and coleslaw at Brothers BBQ. It would be a great day.

And this, my friends, is the old me.

PART 2 – Confessions of a Junk Food Junkie – Meeting Heidi & About the Cleanse

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