The red Ford Escape


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My ride home from work at the City of Berkeley Transfer Station started out as usual, with me biking the wrong way down a one-way street, but nothing about my destination was normal.  I was not headed 4 miles uphill to my sorority house on Bancroft Way. Instead, I was headed down to the Berkeley Marina to sit in the car of a nutritionist/counselor woman who my mom had found on the internet to talk about my lifelong overeating and mommy issues. Unlike the many counselor’s offices I have seen in Orange County, the woman’s car at the Berkeley Marina would have no water feature or soft tropical rain music greeting me in the lobby.

Approaching Gilman Street, I still had enough time to back out of my meeting and turn left up the hill. My mind was flooded with a million excuses to bail. You just had a long day at work; you don’t have the energy to go talk to this woman. You’re hopeless anyways — what makes you think this counselor will be different from the half-dozen others you have tried to work with? Just diet, Jess, eat like a normal person — that will solve your problems.

In the midst of my mind’s chaos, the woman’s words from our 20-minute informational phone session whispered gently, “You can be free from your disordered eating.” The vague thought of freedom was enough for me to override my overwhelming doubt. I turned right.

Heading toward the marina, I entered the intersection from hell. If you have ever seen the Interstate 80 freeway entrance on Gilman Street, you know exactly what I am talking about. For those of you who have not, just envision six directions of traffic, hundreds of bitter Bay Area drivers and a few measly stop signs for direction — it’s sheer chaos.  

Holding my breath through the intersection, Big Bertha and I emerged unscathed. Who is Big Bertha, you ask? No, it is not a cheeky nickname for my ass. Big Bertha is my bike. She, like me, is thicc. Bertha is a mountain bike and was not designed for a smooth ride, but she takes on the concrete jungle that is the streets of Berkeley like a champion. Despite the fact that she is totally functional, I would promptly trade in Big Bertha for some sleek, sexy, lightweight bike as quickly as I would trade in my own body for one that was skinnier and sexier and fit in better with society’s standards.

Finally, I settled on a trusty signpost to lock up Big Bertha and planted myself on the curb with a view of the parking lot entrance. Within minutes, I heard the gravel churning under the wheels of the red Ford Escape. The woman had arrived.  

Hesitantly, I approached the car. I tugged open the passenger side door and was warmly greeted by the internet woman. She said, “Hi, sweetie, come on in.”

Suppressing my childhood training to never to get into a car with a stranger, I sat down, shut the door and became utterly vulnerable. The inside of the car looked like how I kept my car in high school, and I was not tidy in high school. Glancing into her back seat clearly illuminated the woman’s love for soft, warm blankets and coats; she was prepared for an Alaska winter. There was a faint smell of cigarettes. She was wearing a worn-out T-shirt, sweatpants, fuzzy boots and no bra. Immediately, I thought about how my mother would not approve. So naturally, I started liking her more.

The woman began our conversation by asking me about why I was seeking help. So, I blurted out that I had been overconsuming food for as long as I could remember. I said I hated my body and I wanted to lose weight. I expressed that I felt trapped in my own mind, spending 70 percent of the day thinking about food. With anger, frustration and a sweet childlike sadness, I shared my story with the internet woman.

The sound of my soft sobs filled the car. The woman looked at me with eyes that eluded tenderness and love. She told me how sorry she was that I was in pain. With confidence, Toni demonstrated her fierce belief that I could achieve freedom. She showed me her anger at the way women are oppressed — a sentiment that I did not fully understand yet. She told me that I would never have to be alone in my struggle with my body again.

Doubting how this woman could be so confident that she could help me, I asked her how she knew I could be free.  Without wavering, she told me that my brave ability to be raw and vulnerable was all she needed to see to know that she could help me change my life.

When the time came to schedule another session or part ways with her forever, I did not hesitate to commit to working with her.

The internet woman’s name is Toni Kohn. Our first session in the marina parking lot marked the start of many moments that we would share sitting in her red Ford Escape — a car that symbolized not her lack of a fancy office, but her knack for screwing social expectations and her willingness to go the extra mile for her clients.

Since my first meeting with Toni, a registered dietitian and certified counselor, my perspective on my overeating and body-shaming crisis changed. In a 45-minute session, Toni empowered me to believe that the rest of my life would not be consumed with calorie-counting and tummy-checking. Toni inspired me with her vision of freedom for myself and all women.

Leaving my session with Toni, I was feeling lighter than I had in ages, and no, I don’t mean physically.

Jessica Redden writes the Monday column on finding freedom from overconsumption.

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