Cottage Cheese and Melba Toast

In the frozen food section of the grocery store, staring at all the choices of perfectly portioned Health Chow Frozen Dinners, I reached a level of achievement that women around the world have striven for since low fat cottage cheese and Melba Toast were invented.

A woman next to me stared into the freezer case with as confused and desperate a look as mine. Dieters do this sort of thing. We spend time selecting just the right food as if it is crucial to the survival of humanity. Like me, she had tried each of the eighty-seven available dinner choices, only to find that three were her favorites, two others weren't awful and only one, besides those, didn't induce vomiting. Circulating six different frozen dinners through a week's worth of meal times left me wanting something different. Food would be nice, but hey--I have been on a diet since birth. I know about sacrifice. Just about the time I reached for the fat free, no carb, zero sodium BBQ mystery meat meal, she touched my arm.

"Don't do it" she said, with a voice frail from hunger. Her hand fell away from my arm, likely due to lack of carbohydrates for energy.

"But I have to. I have to eat."

"But you're so thin. Why would you do this to yourself on purpose?"

I laughed. "Oh, you're just being nice. These jeans? They are a size ten. I want to wear an eight."


I was confused. "Why? Because an eight is smaller than a ten, so I want to wear an eight."


I was becoming concerned that I might need to call for emergency assistance. Clearly her lack of nutrition was affecting her thought processes. The electrical impulses in her brain were misfiring. Someone get this woman some protein! Stat!

She leaned against her buggy for support as I rested my back against the frozen food case and she explained.

"Honey, when you started this diet, what size did you want to end up?"

I thought for a moment and said, "A twelve. I had been . . . a fourteen." With a shudder and knowing looks, we both nodded and did the sign of the cross although neither of us professed to be Catholic. I don't know why fourteen is such a scary number, but for most everyone I know, fourteen is the cutoff. The day you realize you are, in fact, a fourteen, and not just a twelve having a bad day, is the day a new diet begins.

She continued, "But what size are those jeans?"

" . . . a ten."

And then it hit me. I got it. Her brain was just fine. She was wise, this malnourished goddess of the frozen food section. When would it stop? When I achieved single digit numbers on my Made in Indonesia jeans tag? Where would it end? Would it end?

In my experience, no woman is ever completely happy with her body. Although I understood her logic perfectly, I looked at my reflection in the glass case and immediately spotted my bulging hips. I raised an arm and checked for the wobble that has plagued me since the birth of my first child when I was nineteen. It was still there. I turned to show her my horribly disfiguring flaws, but she was gone. I crossed myself again in case she vaporized from starvation.

Just then, my husband, who happens to be 4 1/2 years my junior, rounded the corner. He walked up with a grin and playfully smacked me on my backside. "Hey there, my cute college girl."

I love it when he calls me that.

"Are you done yet?"

I sighed. "No. I can't decide."

He looked at the case of frozen delights with a frown. "It's no wonder. Does that stuff actually qualify as food?"

I shrugged.

"Let's go get pizza and some beer and watch a movie."

I agreed, abandoning my buggy in the aisle for some other desperately weak dieter to use for balance.

Stepping out into the sunlight, I felt renewed. I was happy. I was as thin as I'd hoped to become when I started this last diet. I had a gorgeous man walking beside me, flirting, making me laugh, enjoying the day. But when we drove up to the pizza place, I was afraid. It had been so long since I tasted real food, I didn't know what to expect.

"What if I like it?"

He looked confused. "Aren't you supposed to like pizza?"

"Yes, but what if I really like it? What if I gain the weight back?"

He shook his head at me and smiled. "Sweetie, one meal isn't going to kill you. And if you like it 'too much' and gain the weight back, that doesn't matter to me. You know that."

I knew that.

So for one day, one glorious day, I held my head high. I was able to walk into a grease-laden pizza parlor full of judgmental teenagers without wondering if those pubescent girls with low-rise jeans and bellybutton jewelry were whispering about the fat lady getting a pizza. For one day I felt normal. We went home, had our beer and pizza and watched a movie. I lifted my glass toward the heavens in salute to the wise Frozen Food Aisle Angel. But then setting my glass back on the end table, the not-so-perky flesh of my arm caught my eye. I said a naughty word. I put my plate of pizza on the coffee table. Then I asked "Sweetie, is there still some cottage cheese in the fridge?"

"Yep. And the Melba Toast is in the cabinet."


  1. I know about the size 14 limit. Been there! However, I've also had a ton of discussions on this topic with plenty of men. All of the ones I've spoken with agree that the media favors tiny women. However, from what they say, attractive women come in plenty of sizes. The main focus is on health and self confidence. Men are not nearly as picky as fashion designers and Hollywood movie makers. I only know of two men who think that their wives need to be skinny. Both of those men are huge and have some major insecurity issues. Be healthy, that's the most important thing. (And TV dinners are filled with junk that could contribute to cancer.)
    JLC - AKA Health food nut. ;)

  2. Great post! Stop the diet-go-round, I want to get off!

    Any cottage cheese left?

  3. Plenty! I keep my fridge stocked.

  4. Carole--you have a good hubby. :) I like the part about the "not so perky flesh" on the upper arm. Yep, know it well.... :D

    March 26, 2010 2:27 PM

  5. Honey, this is exactly what stretchy pants were made for!

  6. I had a teacher in high school who made the idea of stretchy pants over cellulite criminal. But she had these rules for students, you see. No girl could wear shorts. Period. She didn't care if they came below the knee. No shorts. No skirts above the knee. She would measure them. No sleeveless shirts, and sleeves could be no shorter than halfway between the shoulder and elbow. Necklines could be no lower than 2" below the collar bone.

    Most girls got around this by wearing sweatpants under skirts or over shorts to her class. Sweaters over short sleeved shirts, too. But me? I had her for homeroom and accounting. All three years of high school, I had to look at her in the mornings and again in the afternoons. It was too much trouble to bring a change of clothes just for her class.

    The worst part about all of this is we were lectured often about the trashiness of showing our tanned, youthful legs and arms while she paraded around showing off every dimple on her butt and thighs and her nicely rounded belly under stretchy pants three sizes too small.

    Many of us still have nightmares. There is a support group.

  7. Size ten is good, unless you are four feet tall. Which I doubt. Are we too infuenced by commercials and anorexic model?

    Thanks for the wise perspective. Fun post!

  8. I can relate to this piece very well.

    I have gone from size 12 down to 10. At this time, my size 10 pants are just a little loose and I have been trying to get down to size 8.

    Rationally, I know that I am at a healthy weight right now. (135) I don't need to lose more, but I think I am just trying to challenge myself.

    I remember a time when people spoke of the "perfect size 10" as if it is the size to shoot for. It seems reasonable to me. I will never be a size 2. I have hips.

    And I agree, you have a great husband. He has a very good attitude.

  9. Man oh man would that teacher make a great "Bad Guy" character in a YA novel or what? I'm of the "it's what's inside that counts" school. And inside of me is three jelly doughnuts and a moon pie! :)

  10. Moon Pies! I love moon pies. And jelly doughnuts.

    This also reminds me of the time my husband was busted while talking about a teacher back in high school. If memory serves, he said something about pantyhose, thighs rubbing together and the danger of her catching fire just from walking down the hall. Of course she was standing right behind him, and of course his friends didn't let on.

    He is a nice guy. He is NOT known for timing or tact.

  11. Pizza's always a good answer.

    And you're right with this perspective. Thanks for sharing in such a funny and relatable way!

  12. Thanks, Janna! I write so that someone somewhere can laugh. I've tried being serious. It never works. I could write about that time when the brakes failed (going downhill!) in the old blue Escort station wagon and I'd wind up blabbering about the custom blue felt dashboard cover the previous owner fashioned with love for the ugliest car we have ever owned.

  13. I was a size 12/14 in high school. I was majorette captain. I look at those pictures now and think "I should have walked around naked." How silly we were; we are. It's a number, and not even an accurate one. Oh, for my 18 year old, 165 pound self....I know better now.


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