(From my essay collection “Second Thoughts,” columns from The Beach Reporter.)
I recently attended a support group for wives of men who are dieting. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since I’m not a support group type of person. But I was a desperate person.
I didn’t necessarily want to share my story, but I thought I might learn something from the women there. Something that would make me feel I was not alone. We wore name tags and sat in a circle. Normally I don’t like sitting in a circle and I don’t like to share things in groups.
Vanessa was the first to speak. She was a slim, intense woman who seemed friendly with everyone there. She said, “Well, thank goodness Howie is almost at the weight he was when we got married twenty years ago. I don’t think I could take much more. The last month has been a living hell. I mean, just because he’s on a diet doesn’t mean the whole family has to starve. I can’t have any food in the house that doesn’t come from the fruit or vegetable group.”Mavis spoke up. “I know what you mean. There are only so many nights in a row you can eat boneless skinless chicken breasts. The other day I went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch, and he smelled the salsa on my breath, and made me describe everything I had eaten in detail. It was really sick.”
Next it was Jill’s turn. “My husband has never had to diet before. It’s like he woke up one day and weighed 225. I mean he doesn’t even know how many calories are in a Dove Bar!”
Our group counselor spoke. “The thing to remember, ladies, is that most of us have been on at least 20 – 30 diets in our lives. But to our husbands, this is new.”
Jill went on, “Well, it’s kind of ironic. I’ve finally accepted that I’m never going to have a perfect body, so I’ve stopped dieting. And now my husband has decided he wants to look like Kevin Costner. Let me tell you, I would trade Kevin for a bag of Doritos.”
Another woman spoke. “The worst for me is the guilt. I’ve decided that my eating habits aren’t going to change even though my husband is on a diet. But I feel terrible eating a baked potato with butter and sour cream while Joe is munching on a sesame bread stick.”
Jill chimed in, “I started hiding food I didn’t want him to see, but now he snoops around looking for my hiding places. He doesn’t even want to eat my food. He just wants me to feel guilty that I’m eating it.”
“I can relate,” said Marcia. “Last week I bought some bakery treats and hid them behind a box of oatmeal in the pantry. When my husband got home, he went straight to the pantry and sniffed out the cookies. He held the bag out to me and said, “You know I can’t have these in the house!” And I said, “No one is holding a gun to your head to eat them! And I pulled a cookie out of the bag and gobbled it down right in front of him. What made me do that?”
Vanessa said, “Next time hide them in your sock drawer, or in the hall closet. My husband hasn’t opened the door to our hall closet since we moved in ten years ago.”
“Good point, Vanessa,” said our counselor. “Remember, there is no person more saintly, judgmental, or cranky than a man on a diet. It’s hard to deal with a person who a week ago was swilling down a beer with a bowl of Haagen Dazs, and who now demands to know the caloric content of a radish.”
Another newcomer spoke. “It’s all my fault. For years I’ve been clipping out articles on cholesterol and heart attacks in middle-aged men, and leaving them on Harvey’s pillow at night. But now that he’s a lacto-vegetarian, he’s no fun. I want my old Harvey back.”
Jill sighed. “Cooking used to be so easy. We all used to eat the same thing for dinner. But no one wants to eat what my husband eats, so I end up cooking two meals. Then he looks at us with these sad eyes as he munches on his sprout salad, while we eat beef stroganoff with fettucine noodles on the side.”
They all turned to me to see what I might contribute. “Ladies, I think you’ve said it all. Would anyone care for some M & Ms? I always keep them in my purse.”