By Rebecca Putterman
I've always been amazed that my 94-year-old Great Aunt Lolita can walk the 10-plus blocks from her apartment on Park Avenue in New York City to MoMa, browse a couple of floors, and walk home after a light lunch without breaking out in more than a light, summer glisten. This, she manages to do, mind you, after a 20-minute stint of yoga in her pajamas first thing in the morning. Her head, covered in silky, stone-gray hair at lengths unknown due to a cleverly scarf-tied bun, curves and stretches forward to touch her knees.
Lying beside her on my back in my parents' TV room in east Raleigh this past November, I looked over to compare how close my head was getting to my knees. I'm also going to have to admit that I found myself staring in awe at how good she looked in yoga pants. Anyway, within an inch of her demonstrated ability to touch her forehead to her knees in a Yogic pose I naturally can't remember, I'm close. But I'm also about a 1/4 her age.
The worst part is, I'm not even related to this woman.
I grew up hearing her operatic, German/Spanish/French/Queens/Upper East Side accented voice trilling, "everything in moderation!," as the motto of her long, healthy (and happy) life. It drives my cousins who live near her relatively crazy, but to me, it's just a simple, easily remembered tip from a woman whose genes I wasn't lucky enough to have, but whose advice I can try my best not to take for granted.
Last November when she came to Raleigh, I was two months into my first job out of college; the N&O reporter at the Clayton News-Star in Johnston County. When she asked me if I was doing any yoga, I admitted sheepishly that I hadn't really developed a regular exercising habit since I started working, even though I had a membership to a gym.
As expected, Aunt Lolita scolded me. I smiled and nodded. I took it.
When I would visit her in the city during my summer breaks in high school, I took careful note of what she fed me. A normal dinner at her home is often pan-seared, fresh-caught Atlantic salmon alongside steamed vegetables (cauliflower and asparagus are favorites of hers, and mine) drizzled with the slightest bit of balsamic vinaigrette. And no, it's not Paul Newman's. Never, ever would my Aunt Lolita buy packaged salad dressing. It's always made quite strictly from fresh olive oil and a separate bottle of balsamic vinegar, with a pinch of salt and pepper.
But yes, that would be boring to have every single night. That's why the last time I saw Aunt Lolita, we went to Gravy. While I salivated over all the cheesy dishes, settling on their mushroom sauce gnocchi, she remarked that Italian food was made with "too much cheese!" She ordered a steak. With frites.
But she didn't eat all of it. In fact, she even asked that the bits of cheese described in the menu as delectably melted upon the salty, perfectly fried potatoes be left off. It wasn't necessary, she said. And portions today, she emphasizes every time we go out to eat, are too big. And she's right. That said, she did chop up some juicy pieces of her filet mignon and push them onto my partner's plate; poor thing was trying to lose a few pounds. He ate them.
Which brings us to the present moment. At 5'5", I'm trying to maintain 130 pounds after discovering the luxurious enjoyment of craft brews on my 21st birthday (naturally), 1.7 years ago, along with my current love affair with Chenin Blancs, Malbecs and brie cheeses encrusted in . . . hush, Putterman. I started college at an average weight of 115 pounds, and went up to 139 when I was eating badly, drinking a wee bit too much, and not exercising; Don't judge, it's called senior year of college.
Anyway, my partner, who discovered beer one year earlier than I and, well, gained a few pounds, is looking to go from 205 pounds to 185 pounds. The plan is to work together to lose weight and stay healthy, but also to enjoy life. So far, so good. He's at around 200 and I'm hovering at 130.
Neither one of us is willing to give up craft brews and southern cuisine to lose weight. We're both working on being Flexitarians -- eating less meat than self-described carnivores, more poultry than red meat, and more locally raised, organically raised meat than otherwise. We're also looking to exercise in ways we actually ENJOY, and to find incentives to want to grab an orange or a handful of spinach (when in season in North Carolina) rather than melt some Kraft's 4-cheese Mexican blend on a flour tortilla and sit back down in front of the computer.
All in all, we've chosen a diet plan -- or should I say lifestyle -- that I like to attribute to that of my Aunt Lolita: "Everything in moderation!"