From Fritos to Freedom

“I bet you could lose the weight if you really wanted to."

"You just need to have more will power."

"Come on, don’t be lazy."

Struggling with being overweight affects more than 75 percent of all Americans, and is a serious problem for the Jewish population in the United States. But it is not a moral issue.

I’ve always struggled with my weight. I could lose the weight but never keep it off. I remember many times getting to my goal weight and then thinking, "Hooray, now I can eat again." I usually would end up gaining all the weight back that I had lost plus more. That was always the problem with diets for me.

And it would always start with that first bite. Fritos chips. My head would say, "Oh we’ll just have one bag, you’ve been so good, it’s just this time, we’ve had a tough day, we just need to take the edge off." And then, of course, the all-famous, "We’ll get right back on track tomorrow."

The only problem was that it was never just one bag and it always led to more food — maybe not that day, but maybe later that week or the next, and soon I ended up back to my old ways of eating.

There’s the "normal" type of eater who might have gone through a traumatic or stressful experience, put on a few pounds and, when the experience passed, was able to take the weight off. Then, there is someone like me. Without realizing it, I used food to alter my state. It was a way of life. I didn’t know any other way. Did that mean I was lazy? Lacked willpower? Liked to be overweight? Didn’t care about my looks? No.

I was a grazer kind of an eater — just kind of noshed all day long. I didn’t even realize it until the scale made me take a hard, honest look.

I guess it is called an eating disorder. I remember trying to explain it to my Jewish grandmother, of blessed memory. "Vat’s an eating order?" she would ask.

I said, "Bubbe, it’s eating dis order — it means I would eat dis order of french fries, dis order of onion rings and dis order of ice cream. Now you understand dis disorder!"

Why was I altering my emotional state with food? Who knows? I believe we are all here to learn how to serve God, and part of that process is learning to live life on life’s terms, not turning to outside fixes when things don’t go our way. This is the path of emotional maturity. This is the path toward the Almighty. We are all looking for God. My overworking, overthinking, overeating, overeverything were ways I unconsciously cut myself off from God. But, on the other hand, it also has been part of the process to become closer to God.

It’s neat when you first lose the weight. I lost 50 pounds. People really get excited. "Wow, you look fantastic." "Wowee gazowee, you look awesome!"

But now I’ve been at goal weight for a long time and nobody says anything, which I can kind of understand. What are they gonna say, "Wow you look the same!"?

I remember the first time I tried eating in a different way. My kind friend suggested that I eat three meals a day with life in between.

"Life in between?" What did that mean? I have come to learn that it means life on life’s terms. Happy, sad, glad, mad, frustrated, excited — all feelings and emotions that life brings that has nothing to do with food. So the first day of my new food plan I ate my breakfast, and then a few hours later I remember feeling like I would actually starve if I didn’t put some food in my mouth. I called my friend. I told her, "If I don’t eat something right now, I’m not gonna make it!" I’ll never forget what she said to me.

"Wow, I never heard on the news or in the newspaper headlines: "Women dies of starvation from not eating between breakfast and lunch!"

As I continue to grow in my Yiddishkayt, I see that part of maturity comes from delaying instant gratification. Who knew? You mean I can say no to Fritos and step up the ladder on emotional growth?

Some people are normal eaters and can have a cookie or two. God has a sense of humor. For me one cookie was too much and 1,000 was never enough.

He used french fries, Fritos and frozen yogurt to get my attention. Now since I can’t indulge like I use to, I have to call on him. So today I say thank you God for this funny relationship I have today with food. It has brought me closer to the Almighty.

On the Sabbath, the way I related to food was avodah zora-like (idol worshipping). Why was I thinking about the dessert at "Kiddush" while the rabbi was speaking? I really had to take a look at that. How can Shabbat be about God if it is about the food? I’d try little tricks — eating perfectly in front of others and then going to town when I got home — or saying I’m just going to have one cookie, or one piece of chocolate. But once that sugar hit, I’d be making a new trail in the rug with going back and forth to the kitchen for more.

By being sick and tired of being sick and tired of my relationship with food, things have changed.

Maybe your thing isn’t food. With the overweight person it’s easier to be judgmental. But know that fat is not a moral issue.

I remember that before I lost the weight I went to see Dr. Goldberg. She said, "Part of your problem is that you push down your feelings with food. You need to express yourself. Get it out, don’t push it down. Out, out, out. Express yourself."

The next night when I was getting mugged at gunpoint, I told my assailant, "I’m feeling very angry." He put the gun down, looked at me and said, "Dr. Goldberg?"

Now that the weight is off I noticed I was shopping more. I decided to have a meeting with my rabbi. I asked him how to have a meaningful, happy, fulfilling life. He basically told me that the goal is to align my will with God’s will. I left the meeting with the rabbi and I was very moved.

"Make my will God’s will. I think I got it! Wow, this is deep. Oh, yeah. I am a spiritual giant now. Mashiach now!"

And as I was seriously contemplating aligning my will with Gods will, I drove to Beverly Hills.

So I am standing on Rodeo Drive looking at a dress in the window that I know I can’t afford and I say to myself, "How do I know it’s not God’s will? Why would God have me on Rodeo Drive? I know. Maybe I should go and try the dress on and see if it fits then I’ll know if it’s God’s will. It fits! It must be God’s will. Well, just to make sure, if the money is in my purse, then I’ll know it’s God’s will."

I put my hand in my purse and pull out my Visa Card. "Aaaah, he’s everywhere you want him to be."

You see that’s the great thing about credit cards. Now I have the dress, and God has 30 days to get me the money.

If you do not suffer from food issues, then God bless you and remember, "There for the grace of God go I." But if you are struggling, there is hope and help. If you are a friend or family member of someone who has food-related issues, keep in mind that help is out there for those who want it, unfortunately not for those who need it.

I write this in loving memory of my father, of blessed memory, Label ben Meisha, who died of a heart attack. He was overweight and diabetic and said, "If I can’t have my sugar at night, I’d rather die," which he did.

Sandy Wolshin Mendlowitz is a
writer, motivational speaker and stand-up comic. She is also a dating coach for
marriage-minded women at