My Big Fat (Not Greek) Appetite

You know those stereotypes of the Italian grandmothers that did nothing but cook and bake and shove food into their grandchildren’s chubby cheeks throughout their childhood? Or the Greek grandmothers I have heard about who did the same? Well, I had a Jewish grandmother, and let me tell you, the Italians and Greeks have nothing on the Jewish version.

Being fed large quantities of food was how I grew up. I lived a block away and walked to my Gram’s house on a regular basis – these were also the days where schoolchildren in my area ate lunch at home each day, and her closeby home was my regular destination. Huge portions of tempting delicious food were offered and large quantities were expected to be eaten. (I grew up ordered to “clean my plate” no matter how piled high with food it was)

In those days of childhood, I was as skinny as a spaghetti noodle, so I made my grandmother very happy by eating enormous amounts of her wonderful food. It had no effect on my weight and I remained painfully thin well into high school.

“Kineahura, where does she put it all – in a hollow leg?” was the question time after time by other relatives who were a bit heavier than me. (Kineahura is a Yiddish expression that means to have good fortune)

My dad, who is a lifelong thin person, also had a huge appetite – his mother was the Gram I am speaking of, so he was raised the same way. Now that he is elderly he can still eat massive quantities, particularly in a buffet situation. Interestingly, even with my huge appetite, I have never been into buffet eating – unlike my dad.

This huge appetite of mine became a lifelong trait and so I was extremely fortunate though my teen and young adult years to stay skinny, no matter how much I ate. My appetite has always been the same, no matter what I weighed. (Below, age 25)

Arlene at 25

During pregnancy, my appetite increased and I consumed even larger amounts. Instead of eating for two, I was eating enough for a family of five. And yet, miraculously, I lost all pregnancy weight and then some, and remained skinny until my mid-forties.

I have to say I enjoy food, and find great pleasure in eating, as many of us do. Although I do eventually get that “full” feeling, it takes an awful lot to get me there.

My husband in contrast has a puny appetite, and gets full way before me. He is not exactly skinny, but the quantities he eats pales in comparison to me. He takes way more food home from any given restaurant meal and sometimes I snack off his dish too.

He recently commented that my enjoyment of food is only overshadowed by the quantity of food I can pack away in a sitting.

One of my favorite memories of a business meeting introduction was that we had to go around and give a tidbit about ourselves. I said that I met and interviewed Steven Spielberg. Another woman said very calmly, “I eat like a man.” Instantly I wanted to be her friend.

While I was genetically blessed with skinny genes (not to be confused with skinny jeans which I still can wear) I am more average than skinny these days. Middle age, menopause, and hormonal changes have changed the skinny me. I had to learn the four-letter-word diet, and even worse, portion control. This is a horror to a lifelong big eater/skinny person and my various weight fluctuations caused me to write this blog for the Huff Post, Weight- Hold that Compliment! (a blog that many people thanked me for writing.)

I just came back from vacation where I must say, I was gorging myself daily on plentiful and delicous regional food. (It’s difficult being tempted with all kinds of foods you don’t get access to the rest of the year!) Thank goodness my net gain was minimal due to an extreme amount of activity and exercise. But it’s not like it used to be where I could eat with abandon and never worry.

Taken three weeks into vacation below:

Arlene skinny Margate

[Speaking of these weighty issues: I recently watched a marathon of I Love Lucy and saw Ethel Mertz wearing what looked to be slim size 8 dresses through a tour of Europe with Lucy, who was probably a size 2. I was shocked to see how slim Ethel looked to me now, when I used to think of her as heavy. I asked my husband, “How do you remember Ethel Mertz’ body type?” and he said he remembered she was the heavier one. Though she clearly was not fat. Size 8 is what I aspire to keep as it is my ideal size for middle age.]


Well, all this writing about food and appetite and weight has made me enormously hungry. Excuse me while I go eat the equivalent of a bear.


  • First of all, “Yay, you’re back!!” I hope you are doing well and continuing to feel better and recover from your loss. I’ve been worried. I too was always a big eater and I still love a good meal. I’m 54 and menopause has not been nice to me. I weigh more now than I ever have but I’m not obese or out of shape. Just a few rolls that I suppose I’ve earned. We just returned from a trip to Key West and I assumed all that walking I did would keep the margarita calories off of me but I’m about three pounds heavier than when I left Ohio so I assumed wrong. You look fantastic! Great legs! Life is short and I always say when I die, I dont want people to say how good I look or how thin I still was. I want them to say I made them laugh. I enjoyed life and I made them laugh.

    • Hooray for you Vicky, I too, do not want to be remembered for my weight but my being a fun person. I am recovering nicely from the “Summer from Hell-” thanks for your concern, though I will be displaced for a loooong time.

  • I love your blog, exactly the same happened to me and I cannot diet, I don’t know how to do it so I will stay the way I am right now

  • I remember reading that Vivan Vance had it in her contract to remain heavy and I agree, Ethel was NOT fat. Standards were insane back then and still are. It’s hard to believe you have a big appetite but it’s nice to read about it when so many women pretend to hate eating. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a woman eat a big lunch(or even an average sized one) and say “OK, no dinner for me!” Have we really been conditioned to apologize for eating for pleasure?

    • I looked that up on Snopes, and it isn’t true about the contract, though Lucy joked about it and people took it verbatim. Now when I watch, I just can’t believe we thought she was fat. If she’s fat, I am fat.

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