My mother is a very thin person. She always has been. Except for two pregnancies, her weight has been stable her entire life. She credits that consistency, in part, for her exceptional health at 77 years old. She has a natural high energy level and is most comfortable when she keeps busy and moving. She worked for many years in a major medical center and eschewed the elevator; she spent her days climbing the stairs in a 10-story building. Now retired, my Mom is up at dawn to walk four miles around their community. She usually follows that up with water aerobics, an activity she enjoys largely for the social aspect.
My Mom doesn’t have “issues” with food; she simply doesn’t care all that much. She doesn’t deny herself anything because she’s worried about calories or fat. She honestly does not care. It was maybe because of this that she’s never had a “forbidden” attitude about any foods. I did not grow up being told I couldn’t eat anything in particular though she did not want me to get macaroni and cheese AND mashed potatoes when we’d go out to cafeterias for dinner (used to be a Southern thing). Growing up in the sixties and seventies, people still ate real food they prepared at home and my house was no exception even though my Mom always worked. She’s never been a fancy cook and I would attribute that to her generally indifferent attitude about food in general.
Today my parents live in one of those “55 and up” gated communities. It’s in my hometown. They didn’t have to retire to Florida; they were already there. As you might expect, people give my twiglet of a Mom a bit of a hard time frequently making an issue of how thin she is. People tend to assume that any thin person is living this admirably ascetic life of denial and discipline. But they’re probably not.
Everything my Mother is and does is in her nature. She’ll admit she’s no paragon of good judgment and discipline. She does nothing that isn’t simply her own natural preference. I SWEAR TO YOU my Mother’s favorite evening treat when she’s watching TV—and I viewed this with my own eyes last summer—is to put a little red wine in a glass with ice cubes and suck on the ice cubes. Seriously, my Mom considers ice cubes like a treat. This is not because she’s making some effort to “think like a thin person.” She makes no effort.
My parents live next door to a very nice couple. The lady is one of those women who will not allow herself to be seen unless she’s perfectly dressed and made up. She works out at Curves every day and she counts calories obsessively. She has a small nutrition bar and a Diet Coke for lunch every day, no exceptions. She is very thin. My Mom believes she’s somewhat anorexic. Yes, my Mom believes her friend has unhealthy eating habits. She DOES deny herself. She DOES have a fear of eating food she thinks is “bad;” bad as in it will make her fat and she’s terrified of being fat.
Considering both of these women, they are an interesting study in contrasts. One has been naturally thin all her life and eats whatever she wants. As it happens, what she wants is a fairly nutritionally-sound diet in rather small portions. She also has a natural high activity level. The other is unnaturally thin and she is obsessed with what she eats—and what she won’t allow herself to eat for fear she’ll gain weight. She exercises just as obsessively and looks almost a bit anorexic because of it. This woman lives like this by conscious choice. Is she demonstrating some kind of superior judgment and discipline? I’m sure she thinks she is.
The neighbor probably admires my mother and thinks she’s emulating habits that keep my Mom so thin. But she doesn’t know the truth. Naturally-thin people like my mother are at the foundation of my primary contention that some people are thinner by nature and some people are larger by nature. We are what we are programmed to be by our genetics, by our physiology, by our brain wiring. A Bell Curve MUST have two ends and if we accept that there are people with a naturally-low drive to eat and thinner bodies then we must also accept that there are those of us with a naturally higher drive to eat and larger bodies.
Fighting to be something you’re not is a futile battle you can never win. Yes, we can change certain things about ourselves through persistent effort over time. But will my mind ever work like my Mom’s? Could I ever “think like a thin person”? My thin Mom doesn’t even do that! I won’t. I don’t want to. It’s an insult. It’s based on the assumption that thin people demonstrate high discipline and superior judgment in caring for themselves. How many times have you heard that the key to managing weight is to “think like a thin person”? Think about it while you consider this “Tale of Two Thin Women.”