You wouldn’t know it from the temperature and the couple inches of snow on the ground, but summer is just a few months away. Even for those of us who, out of modesty or just in deference to age, don’t wear bikinis or tank tops or mini skirts, the hot weather still brings with it a desire to wear more revealing clothing. Whether soaking up the sun poolside, or just doing our regular errands, those extra pounds that we layered on in the winter or over several winters can make summer a daunting proposition.

So when an old friend who is a health coach and now lives abroad suggested a 10 week spruce up for summer program, I was all-in. The beauty of the internet means that I am now part of a group of women living in Israel and in various parts of the United States – and apart from the fact that some are already sound asleep when I am figuring out dinner, you would never know the great physical distances between us as we start this journey together.

I have a generally healthy attitude toward food. I like to eat. I eat when I am hungry, and sometimes I eat just for the pure pleasure of the experience. And I like to eat both healthy food, and food that would not win any prizes in that department. I am not overweight, but a person of my relatively diminutive height would weigh about 15 pounds less in an ideal world. That being said, I have two issues with food that I would need to address. 

The first was identified when I went to Weight Watchers after the birth of my first child, some 18 years ago. When we described our eating habits to the leader, I was dubbed a “grazer.”  Putting aside the somewhat unflattering implicit reference to various farm animals, indeed, this is exactly what I am. Working from home, as I have done to some extent or another for years, I cruise through the kitchen, munching on whatever is within reach, all day long. When I am being careful, I make sure the bowls that dot my countertops are filled with dry roasted almonds or popcorn – when I am not, there are cookies or chips. My latest go-to snack is Parmesan cheese; a great hunk of it sits in my refrigerator, and I hack away at it, slowly but surely, savoring the sharp saltiness. 

The second is a certain preoccupation with food. Not in a disordered way, but more like an infatuation. It has always been that way for me. I remember well an incident when I was a teenager and a reporter for the school newspaper. We had organized a trip to Chicago, the city from which our faculty advisor hailed. He had regaled us with tales of deep-dish pizza over the days before the trip, and I could not get the upcoming meal off my mind. On the plane, I turned to a fellow student, a friend to this day, and asked, “aren’t you so excited about the deep dish pizza dinner?”  She looked at me like I had three heads, and calmly told me she had not given it a second thought. This was the first inkling I had that otherwise normal people just did not think about food the way that I did.

When I think about my eating habits, it isn’t so much that I don’t know what to do, it is that I don’t want to do the thing that would be better for me. Again, this isn’t out of any kind of self-loathing; I just like what I like. Perhaps I suffer from what my coach calls “good enough-itis,” that feeling that, really, I am still at an okay weight, with a decent figure, and I can still climb a flight of stairs without gasping for air – isn’t that enough? Is it a sin that when I go into the restaurant, although I know I should order the salad, I want the burrito with guacamole, cheese, sour cream, refried beans, and rice stuffed inside? Isn’t it enough that I manage to ask for the whole-wheat tortilla?

What will these ten weeks bring? Well, yesterday’s most enlightening moment came with the suggested, but not mandatory, taking of the “before” photographs – my husband patiently trying to find the most flattering views – front, side, and back – of me in my bra and underwear. And to be truthful, although the results were motivating, they were not mortifying. There were some rolls of fat where I didn’t expect them, and when I stand with my legs together, they do not meet at calf, knee, and thigh, leaving the 3 diamonds of airspace that I recall from my youth. The picture from the back was more revealing of changes to my skin than changes to my shape. But, I am a 50-year-old woman, who has had two children. While the ten weeks will hopefully cause some noticeable improvements, only air brushing could really make these photos something on a different order.

Still, I am optimistic, and I have put into action a number of the pearls of wisdom from the first day of coaching. This morning I started off with a glass of cool water with half a lemon squeezed in; thank goodness, the coffee chaser was still allowed. I have counted out an appropriate number of almonds and put them in a little crystal dish, hoping to savor the snack all day. And for breakfast, I grated zucchini into my oatmeal – there’s something I never thought I would do. So while it still isn’t likely that I’ll choose the kale over the French fries anytime soon, at least I’ll try to have them both share my plate as the days grown longer and warmer.

Reyna Gentin

Reyna Marder Gentin lives with her husband and their teenage children in New York. She has been featured in Mamalode, Mothers Always Write and The Jewish Literary Journal. Reyna is working on her first novel.