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Published September 25 2011

Swift: For some, it’s either ‘do or diet’

You may have heard of the Fighting Sullivans, the talented Mannings or the overexposed Kardashians.

You probably have not heard of the Dieting Swifts.

It’s true. The women in my family have dieted like the Kennedy men womanized.

We turned calorie counting into an art form. To this day, my mother could rattle off the calories and fat content in a slice of melba toast, a pint of sugar-free loganberry sherbet or a half grapefruit topped with Sweet 10 and a maraschino cherry.

It was years until I realized what chicken skin tasted like, that there was an option to turkey bacon or that some people actually ordered their salads with the dressing already poured on it.

For as long as I can remember, our mother has been on a diet. I believe her repeated patronage of Weight Watchers is one reason why that business was able to afford A-lister Jennifer Hudson – rather than D-lister Ernie Hudson – as a celebrity representative.

We grew up watching Mom weigh her food, eat half a banana at a time, measure out her dressing and use a low-fat margarine that smelled like Tupperware accidentally left on a hot burner.

Our cupboards were filled with diet products, which mesmerized us kids. The Ayds Weight Loss Candy looked exactly like Kraft Caramels. The Figurines Diet Bars resembled tasty wafer cookies.

We would sometimes sneak one of these reduced-calorie treats. That’s when we learned low-calorie “sweets” usually taste like asbestos tile and that nothing made Mom madder than people stealing her diet food.

“You kids!” she’d holler. “This is all I get to eat, and then you darned kids eat it all.”

But before long, we had legitimately joined The Diet Club.

We held competitions in which we tried to be the one to lose the most pounds on Weight Watchers.

We always started out well – obediently preparing the sometimes scary foods that were allowed on the 1970s version of the diet plan.

That included frozen, ground veal patties from the Schwan’s man, weird desserts made from sugar-free pudding, and one of the saddest snacks in the world: dry toast topped with cottage cheese, a pineapple ring and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

My sister Mabel would have made an ideal super model, as she could subsist for days on Tab and sugar-free gum. But I always fell off the celery wagon and usually wound up locking myself in the bathroom to gobble down Tollhouse bars.

Still, you know what they say: If at first you don’t succeed, diet, diet again.

And we did. There was the Rotation Diet, the Scarsdale Diet and the Stillman Diet.

We also tried plenty of crazy fad plans, which were usually typed up, mimeographed and handed from housewife to housewife over coffee.

There was a fruit diet, in which you ate nothing but bananas one day and apples the next. There was a cabbage soup diet – every bit as horrifying as it sounds. There was a plan in which you ate steak and tomatoes all day, finished off by a nauseating nightcap of apple cider vinegar and maple syrup at bedtime.

As we girls grew up and left the roost, we dieted a lot less. Convinced that severe food restriction actually made me fatter, I completely swore off diets for years.

But even though my mother is now in her 70s, she still monitors every bite she eats. I want to say to her: “Enough! Mom, you’ve worked hard your whole life and raised five children. Quit worrying about it and have the pie!”

In fact, one day I did kind of lose it. I was talking to her about how obsessed we all were with food and weight and how it couldn’t possibly be normal.

Mom made a few sounds of agreement – and then started talking about how well she did on Weight Watchers that week.

Oh, well.

For some, it’s just do or diet.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525