“It is unthinkable that a woman bent on “having it all” would want to be fat, or even plump," Helen tells us from her pulpit, "so I am going to give you my diet rules.” I’m just going to take a minute to let that sink in, because not only is it a horrifying statement, I want you to be prepared because this chapter gets a lot worse. “Do you like fat men? Of course not. . . [and] you ought to be suspicious of men who say they like fat women. Those men want mothers, at least a comfy, cushiony, sofa-pillow girl to sink into and hide out in.” Yes, it even gets worse than this.
Right off the bat, she advises us not to talk to our doctors about dieting, “Many doctors don’t know anything about nutrition, incidentally.” And yet, shockingly, she finds a number of professionals – and I use the term loosely – who back up her recommendations, which include a daily calorie intake of 700-1000, fasting – as punishment for binging, and crash diets. “That’s dieting: eating less than you’d really like to for the rest of your life!” Well, I’m going to jump right in without medical advice so that I too, can have it all – although I’m so hungry right now that I would trade having it all for a big piece of cheesecake. Actually, I’d trade pretty much anything for cheesecake most days. I might be in trouble here.
“Now, many women say they don’t want to look cadaverous like a model. Well, models don’t happen to look cadaverous, they look great.” After this statement, I stopped to take inventory in the mirror. I’m 5’4 on a good day, I weigh 136 pounds, I have birthing hips that farm women of the 50’s would be jealous of, thick cankles that I maintain keep me from tipping over in high winds, and a trunk with enough junk to classify me as a hoarder. My only bone that sticks out is certainly not a rib, it’s a wonky collarbone that I broke five years ago. Got the image? Okay. I think it's only fair that you have a solid understanding of my credentials as we get deeper into this.
“Cheryl Tiegs – one hundred two pounds, and she’s five feet ten inches!” Cheryl Tiegs – if you don't know – was a model in the 70’s and 80’s and is known to have been the first woman to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition twice! To put Helen's words into context using the Body Mass Index – a score of 18.5 or under is considered underweight. Cheryl Tiegs would score 14.6. A gorgeous, healthy, and fit friend of mine who is also 5’10 and weighs 145 pounds would score 20.8 (a score falling between 18.5 – 24.9 is considered a normal weight). While the Body Mass Index is far from perfect, it does help to illustrate my point. “Insurance companies," Helen continues, “say you can weigh a lot more than you did at nineteen. They say you can carry around the most fantastic amounts, like one hundred twenty-eight pounds when you’re five feet three inches! Those weights are mythical if you want to be cute and sexy.” Again – in case you missed it – I am 5’4 and 136 pounds. My BMI at 23.3 might be the most normal thing about me. I’ve also never considered my weight as a factor in being cute and sexy – I've always thought that my lack of coordination has a much bigger impact on my sex appeal. “When one-hundred-and-two-pound Cheryl Tiegs gets up to One hundred five,” Helen tells us, “she says she stops eating and maybe you, too, will have to stop eating occasionally.” Well, it looks like I’m going to have to because to have the same BMI as 1983 Cheryl Tiegs, I would have to weigh 85 pounds. But don’t worry, according to this book, Dr. Myron Winnick, (then) director of Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition, says, “It’s almost impossible for a healthy person to be too thin. There are very few medical problems associated with thinness.” As recently as 2005, this doctor published a book about children’s nutrition. I'm not even joking. In any case, I'm feeling reassured that as long as I'm healthy, I can be as thin as I want! Sure, that makes sense.
“Well, the price for the ideal weight is, yes, semistarvation!” God damn it, Helen. “But can’t you weigh a little more than “ideal” and still be healthy?” Fingers crossed she says yes! “Yes, a little more perhaps – five or ten pounds – but now we come to pride.” Well, shit. “If you want a flat stomach, huggable hips, round but slender arms, you’ve probably got to be at the “ideal” weight or less, because those extra five or ten pounds never go to the throat, breasts or shoulders where we’d like them, but always to the stomach and hips.” The throat and shoulders? Breasts I get, but has anyone ever said would you look at the throat on her?” Not to mention that clearly the '80's were not a booty-loving heyday. “Anyways, from “decent” skinny eating (no salt, no sugar, minimal starch), exercising an hour a day, taking vitamins (sixty a day now), no smoking, no drinking, no caffeine, no drugs, and being motivated to stay well, your life can change utterly. Mine did.” 60 vitamins a day? Who’s got the time? “No matter what diet you’re on, if you cut carbohydrates and don’t even eat all the meat, eggs, fowl and fish you want, I think you’ll get there faster.” Yes, no matter what diet you may already be on, if you eat less, you will lose more weight. I can’t argue with that logic.
“When you’re into big-time serious dieting, you must plan what you’re going to eat that day – seven hundred cals, one thousand cals – and not eat another thing.” By my calculations, eating in my usual and healthy way, I have blown through her allotted calories by early afternoon. True story. The amount of hanger that would rain down if I should cut my calories to 700 a day, would surely drive my boyfriend into hiding – I think he’s nervously trying to pick up extra work shifts as I type this. It’s no wonder that Helen was such a bitch. “I have never been fat,” – okay, she was a skinny bitch – “because I have always made myself pay for binges (thirty-six hours without any food . . . ghastly!)” Well, this is sounding healthier. She tells us about the time that a pound of chocolate was delivered to her door in the form of a Candygram, “As soon as the Western Union boy departed, I sat down by the front door and ate the whole thing. Incredible what the human tummy will hold. . . it just stretches and stretches!” While she doesn’t completely endorse it, she also uses her own euphemism to make purging sound not exactly unpleasant. “Never mind that ancient Romans did it, some determined young ladies (a couple famous ones) keep to skin and bones now by eating and whoopsing.” Whoopsing.
Don’t feel like whoopsing? Don’t worry, Helen has doctor-approved crash diets to offer as well. “Isn’t crashing bad for you?” According to Dr. Irwin Stillman, author of The Doctor’s Quick Weight Loss Diet, it’s not! “In my experience, there’s no question that quick-action dieting which alters radically and suddenly your ways of eating is the best way to reduce. . . the too-prevalent viewpoint that a fast take-off of weight is linked inevitably with a fast put-on. . . is not true.” This guy sounds credible. On The Stillman Diet, which claims you will lose 7-15 pounds in the first week, you eat six small meals a day – I pretty much do that already, you drink eight glasses of water a day – I also do that, and you eat as much lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and non-fat cottage cheese as you want – sounds good to me! But you can’t use any type of oil to cook – well, I can get used to that. Alcohol and sugar are also off the menu – I can accept that if I have to. Tobasco, salt, pepper, and garlic are allowed – that sounds tasty! “The diet strictly forbids carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits” – um, what did you say now? That can’t be right. Well, it is and that’s why this dude's famous diet resulted often in malnutrition, weak bones, kidney stones, high cholesterol levels, and only short-term weight loss. But once again, Helen comes to the rescue of her bad research and gives us her own proven diet advice, “This is one of my favorite crashes. . . Breakfast: one egg cooked without butter, one glass of white wine. Luch: two eggs, cook without butter, two glasses of white wine. Dinner: medium steak, all fat trimmed, broiled, and finish the bottle of wine.” Drunk, hangry, and with all those eggs in your belly is such a great way to achieve cute and sexy.
But eventually, even Helen found “binge-ing having to be followed by remorse and starvation” an uncomfortable way to live and instead just limited what she ate every day. “I think you may have to have a tiny touch of anorexia nervosa to maintain an ideal weight. . . not a heavy case, just a little one.” We all know that anorexia is super easy to regulate and maintain. Much like how an alcoholic can be just a social drinker when they decide to be.
Once her doormat chocolate binging days were behind her, Helen swore off sugar and alcohol. “They’d have to get my jaws open with a crowbar now to get dessert down me.” And, even with Helen’s busy social life, she managed her choices with grace and dignity. “To get rid of calories at parties and to outfox a determined host, I have dumped champagne (which I adore) into other people’s glasses when they weren’t looking or, in a real emergency, into a split-leaf philodendron, wrapped eclairs in a hanky and put them in my purse, once in an emergency, sequestered one behind the cushion of an upholstered chair – in a napkin of course.” How very thoughtful. “One aggravated hostess put chocolate chips in my Sanka out in the kitchen one day, then gleefully told me what she’d done after I drank. Bitch!” Haters gonna hate, Helen.
Still have a sweet tooth? Helen recommends using artificial sweeteners in place of sugar. “The food and drug administration tells us that saccharine and sucaryl, even the amounts contained in two bottles of diet soda a day, may be carcinogenic. . . Okay, if saccharine and sucaryl suffice for sugar in my life, I think they are worth the risk.” She did live to be 90, so I can’t really argue her logic here. “As I write this a new artificial sweetener, aspartame, is being test-marketed. I’ve used it and it’s sensational. . . the brand name is Equal, it should be available for all of us soon.” And what a joyous day it was for all when Equal came on the market.
Helen’s Desert Recipe
- 1 envelope D-Zerta chocolate pudding
- 2 envelopes Sweet ‘n Low, Sugar Twin or other artificial sweetener
- 1 rounded tablespoon instant Sanka, Brim, or regular coffee
- 2 Cups skim milk
- 2 tablespoons (2 ounces) Hershey chocolate syrup
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) brandy
Serves 3 people at 140 calories per serving and is “quite delicious.”
“Even with sugar out of my life, I still weighed, at five feet four, one hundred ten or twelve pounds, still had a pouchy stomach. . .” Again, Helen and I are the same height and I weigh 26 pounds more than her. Maybe my bones are just super dense. “So I went to see one of those gifted doctors that maybe you can only find in New York,” – sorry Helen, I think you can find quacks just about anywhere – “who confirmed that one hundred five would indeed be a much better weight in my case and gave me a product called Optifast to get off the five pounds.” Apparently, doctors don’t know anything about nutrition unless they are telling you to lose weight and do it quickly! Check.
I learned a lot in this chapter – mostly that having it all doesn't include health – under sections titled, Despite All the Controversy About How to Go About It and How Terribly Tough It Is, Dieting Really Is Moral, Sexy and Healthy; Exercise Is Good for You – But It Won’t Make You Skinny; Self-Induced Throwing Up After an Orgy is Brave, But Not Good For You; Crashing is Okay, So Is Fasting; A Skinny Can Invest Her Calories in Food Or Drink – But Not Both. In that last one Helen writes about choosing food or drink, “What few calories I’m allotted, I prefer in food, except in sexy moments. (P.S. You know which is healthier.)” I’m still perplexed at this statement. If we are getting drunk for “sexy moments” then why are we bothering to starve ourselves? Everyone looks sexy after a bottle of wine. Oh, Helen – what a great practical joke on the women of yesterday this book is turning out to be.
She leaves us with this – “Can you admire your utterly outstanding pelvic bones the way other people admire Bo Derek’s bosom, take endless please in patting your stomach because it (still) isn’t there, thank God!, go into deep depression at the gain of even half a pound? Good!” Well no. But here’s to getting drunk on wine and eggs until I do!
As soon as I sober up, I'll start on Chapter 4 - Excercise. Helen has already said that we should exercise because it "helps especially when you’ve “lost weight in the wrong places,” but not because it’s much help in using up calories.” Noted.
Missed any of the chapters? Click here to Have It All.