This is my most enduring Thanksgiving memory: The 17-course dinner is finally over, and a collective sigh of relief erupts around the table as if we just ran the New York City marathon and collapsed at the finish line.
As the dishes are being cleared, the men go into the living room to watch the football game, while I stay behind to listen to my great-aunts kvetch. They’re still sitting at the table because they can’t get up, and their chorus of complaints sounds something like this:
“Oh, Stella, I’m sooo bloated!”
“You! What about me? Babe, I never knew such bloating. Call Fr. Iannucci to hear my confession.”
“Marie, nothing can compare to the bloating I’m feeling! It’s the Guinness Record for bloating …”
And so it went, a family competition to see who was the absolutely, positively most bloated. On more than one occasion, I considered reaching into my mother’s sewing kit for a tape measure so we could determine decisively who won the “I am the most bloated” contest. First prize — a five-course dinner at Antonio’s Family Style Italian Restaurant with double portions and a complimentary glass of Chianti. I never did that, however, because bloated or not, we revered our great-aunts the same way other cultures revere Buddha or Gloria Steinem.
For many years, I thought bloating was only associated with Italians who ate large meals with exceptionally large portions and had a habit of using the word “Mangia!” with reckless abandon the way Wrestlemania fans yell when Triple H enters the ring.
In later life, I learned bloating is not confined to great-aunts who enjoy a meal of antipasto, Italian bread, ziti, salad, broccoli rabe, roasted potatoes, roasted chicken, roast beef, vino, tiramisu, and espresso. (Did I forget a course?) Oh, yes, lupini beans and grappa for the denouement.
Bloating is a universal affliction that crosses cultural and political lines, and I have sympathy for them all because I, myself, suffer from it, even though I usually limit my meals to whole grains, vegetables, organic chicken, fruit and the indiscriminate consumption of Halloween and Easter candy.
Unlike my aunts, I wear a belt, and depending upon the degree of bloatedness, I have to notch it in different places. There’s a length for unbloated occasions, for bloated occasions and for “I can’t stand this anymore” bloated occasions. I even invested in a stretchable belt that has proved to be invaluable when bloating sneaks up on me in the middle of the day if I eat too much granola for breakfast.
And lately I’ve been prowling the dollar store, looking for pants with elastic bands designed for Baby Boomers whose waistlines fluctuate like the stock market after the presidential election. The problem is that Brooks Brothers has yet to design a pair of suit pants with an expandable waist, so I may have to start wearing sweat pants to the office.
In search of answers, I went online to Web MD, which has led many a hypochondriac to imagine he’s suffering a serious illness because of gas buildup. During my research, I kept encountering frightening terms like “irritable bowel syndrome,” “flatulence,” “belching,” “constipation” and “acid reflux.”
As they say in 12 Step programs, “You are not alone.” One in ten Americans suffers from bloating and gas buildup, which are linked to overeating and consuming fatty foods (I’ll never eat pork rinds again). Experts also say not to chew gum, drink with a straw, suck on hard candy or breathe through your mouth, all of which I do. They also advise you to go easy on the lentils, beans, fruits, vegetables and grains, which means you may as well stop eating and breathing.
Bloating is not confined to great-aunts. Baby Boomers bloat, Millennials bloat, even infants bloat, aka “have gas,” because they’re often the victims of what their mothers eat.
My grandsons, aged three months and four months, struggle with baby bloating — that’s a medical term I invented. These poor little guys get some serious gas because my daughters have no qualms about consuming nachos with refried beans or Starbucks lattes with whipped cream.
I’ve noticed I also get bloated when the humidity is high because my body retains water, so I went to Home Depot and bought a device to monitor the humidity. Right about now, you’re probably saying, “What the heck is this guy talking about? Does he think he’s Dr. Oz?” Yes, I do, and maybe I’ll move to Arizona where the humidity is low. That’s what my great-aunts did and it cured the problem … until they started eating pasta e fagioli.
Contact Joe Pisani at [email protected]