Rabia Chaudry, FATTY FATTY BOOM BOOM: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family

Rabia Chaudry, FATTY FATTY BOOM BOOM: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family

Zibby is joined by New York Times bestselling author, attorney, advocate, and Undisclosed podcast host Rabia Chaudry to discuss her mouthwatering and deeply thoughtful new book Fatty Fatty Boom Boom: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family. Rabia reveals the inspiration behind this project and shares the intimate stories of her food and weight journey, from chewing on frozen sticks of butter as a baby to eating in secret to finally getting gastric sleeve surgery. She also talks about her divorce, modeling healthy habits for her children, her favorite memoirs (including David Ambroz’s A Place Called Home!), and her best advice for aspiring authors.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Rabia. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Fatty Fatty Boom Boom: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family.

Rabia Chaudry: Thanks for having me. I love the name of your show.

Zibby: I love the name of your book, so there you go. Can you tell listeners what your book is about and why you decided to write it?

Rabia: As the subtitle tells you, it’s a memoir about food, fat, and family. After publishing my first book, I was immediately asked by my publisher and literary agent, “What are you going to write next?” I started thinking about it. I had never considered writing a memoir because, frankly, I feel like you have to do something extraordinary in your life to do that. I was encouraged to consider it. When I did, I thought, a lot of my work is public-facing, the work I do in advocacy, criminal justice, and other issues. I do a lot of writing and public speaking about it, so I’ve told those stories a lot of times. I decided the story that I really have never told anybody publicly is this story. If there is one theme in my life, it is this theme of body image issues and weight struggles, which I’ve had since childhood. Fatty Fatty Boom Boom was one of my nicknames when I was a kid. I also figured that this is the kind of story that would resonate with a lot of people.

Zibby: It certainly resonated with me. You talked about how when your family came to America, you were fed, literally, sticks of frozen butter to deal with your gums hurting. You would chew on the butter. Is that right?

Rabia: Yeah. I think my mom would contest the word fed. She was like, what is going to cool her gums but also something she won’t choke on and something she can hold? A frozen stick of butter. I don’t really know where she ever got the idea because when I ask her about it all these years later, she’s like, “I don’t remember, but it just made sense.” I loved it, obviously. I have always loved butter ever since.

Zibby: Butter is great. Butter makes everything better.

Rabia: As they say.

Zibby: That was your first experience gaining more weight and having your family, when you would go back to visit, not be as excited that you had — they were like, “What did you do to my grandchild?” and all of that, which could not have felt good, even though you were very young.

Rabia: I don’t have a recollection of that happening, but it’s a story that I have been told a million times growing up. I just remember feeling adored, like I was this chunky little doll that was being passed around to all my relatives. They adored on me. My grandfather could kind of see that this is not good. This is not going in the right direction. My grandfather was always super fit, super healthy. He died in his late nineties. Even though he’d gone blind a decade earlier, he still went for a walk every day and took a cold shower every morning. He was a real healthy guy.

Zibby: You talk about how you were in grade school and how you started hiding food, which by the way, I did too. I would put Hershey’s Kisses under my bed, but we don’t have to talk about that.

Rabia: Did you really?

Zibby: Oh, yeah. I had my allowance. They had this store next to my grade school. I could go in. I would either get a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, because that was $1.25, or I could do a .50¢ Yodels because they often had a third Yodel. Sometimes Devil Dogs were only .25¢, so I could get a couple. This is really dating me. Those might not be right, but that’s how I remember it in my head. Anyway, you said, “These were the years I learned to eat in secret, to hide my insatiable hunger, to wrap food in napkins and press it between the pages of my books, to inhale entire mouthfuls without chewing when someone suddenly entered the room, and these were also the years I realized I may have been a bit chubby because it seemed everyone had begun commenting about my weight and noticing what I ate and how much I ate. I understood that if I was going to eat the things I loved in the amounts that satiated me, I had damn better hide it.”

Rabia: Writing this book, for me, was connecting a lot of dots. For the most part, I haven’t spent much of my life eating in secret, but there have been, definitely, moments in my life. I think that’s really where it began, at that point. Then later when I was in my first marriage, and it was a deeply abusive marriage, I also started eating in secret. My mom’s always done that. She’ll never eat with us. People around us model behavior, and then kids pick it up. I would compare myself to my younger sister, who was only two years younger than me. I would watch how she ate. I would be like, how is she full just eating that banana and a glass of milk for a snack? I just didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I never felt full.

Zibby: Do you feel full now?

Rabia: I do, but it took a surgical procedure to get me there.

Zibby: You feel, literally, a physical difference?

Rabia: Fullness. People ask me whether I regret getting gastric sleeve surgery. Frankly, gastric sleeve surgery was not a magic bullet to get to a goal weight. You have to still be on a very strict protocol for that procedure to be effective. I just didn’t follow it. Most of the people I know who got the sleeve have gained back almost all the weight. I don’t regret it because it does give me the feeling of knowing what it’s like to feel full. I, most of my adult life, didn’t know what that felt like.

Zibby: It’s not the best feeling.

Rabia: Actually, to me, it feels like a gift.

Zibby: Oh, really?

Rabia: Yeah, because it’s finally a signal for my body that you can stop eating. I never was able to do that. I would eat until the food in front of me is gone. If there’s leftovers in the plate next to me from somebody else, I would eat those too. That felt terrible. That’s not normative. That’s not how other people’s bodies function. What was wrong with mine that it didn’t send that signal? I feel very grateful for feeling full and satisfied. I’m like, I’m good. I can get up from this table.

Zibby: Got it. Maybe I just mean overly full.

Rabia: Oh, stuffed and sick to my stomach? No, I don’t want to feel that, obviously. This is a different sensation. This is just like, okay.

Zibby: Satisfied.

Rabia: I feel satisfied.

Zibby: That’s interesting. You did not write in such a positive way about the sleeve situation. I feel like for anyone considering it, if they read your book, they wouldn’t necessarily want to get that operation.

Rabia: I wanted to be real about it. I also wanted to be really honest about why I got it. I think I made the right decision based on my calculations, based on my lived experience, based on what science and research shows us about people who struggle with weight and how the odds are stacked against you for so many reasons. There’s a reason every time — it’s not like we don’t know how to lose weight. You do over and over again in your life, and it comes back with friends, like I said, over and over. It just made sense to me in many ways. I also thought, I don’t know my physiology. Maybe my stomach is this big, gaping black hole. That’s the reason I never get full, so this might be the way. I wanted to be honest about what that first six months, especially, was like. It’s very, very hard. I was at a book event. I was talking about this. A woman raised her hand and said, “I just want you to know I’m getting gastric sleeve surgery next week.” I was like, “Oh, no, listen, I don’t mean to –” The truth is, they will prepare you for all that. When you are going through the evaluation and the whole program to prepare you, they will explain that this is all going to happen to you. You have to be mentally and emotionally prepared for it.

Zibby: It’s good to have the real story. It’s super useful. You wrote really beautifully about your marriage ending. If I could just read this one other paragraph, is that okay?

Rabia: Sure.

Zibby: You said, “Six months later, I was no longer with my husband. A marriage doesn’t break in an instant. It takes hundreds of instances, of words said and unsaid, of grief and resentment, disappointment, and heartache. Our marriage didn’t even have a chance to build, much less break. When AK hit me just weeks after I left my family’s home to join him, he shattered any foundation our relationship could’ve had. You cannot build on rubble, but for five years for the sake of our daughter, I had tried. Ultimately, I wasn’t even the one who ended it. AK did.”

Rabia: Anybody who’s been through a divorce understands that, or the end of any relationship understands that. It takes a thousand cuts. Death by a million cuts or whatever.

Zibby: I’m divorced also. I used to be a Weight Watchers leader. I know you went to Weight Watchers for a while.

Rabia: Were you really?

Zibby: I really was. I know. Can you believe it? As I said, I’ve struggled with my weight forever. It finally worked for me when I tried it. It was the only thing that had ever worked. When I get really excited about something, I’m all in. I was like, oh, I’m going to be at goal weight. If you’ve been at goal weight for long enough, you can be a receptionist. I was like, I’ll just have to try that. Then you can be a leader. I like having goals. I did that for a couple years.

Rabia: I never even gave it a chance, as you found out in the book.

Zibby: I read that.

Rabia: At fifteen, I was like, no, I do not belong here. I just refused. It just seemed like way too much work. I was like, there’s no way. Even at that very tender age, I was like, I know I can’t live like this where I’ve got to figure out the point for every single thing. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it.

Zibby: You just took the money and went to the mall, right? Didn’t you do something like that?

Rabia: I took the money, and I went to the convenience store to get junk food. My poor parents were like, this doesn’t seem to be working, months later.

Zibby: You’re like, no, I feel great. They’re like, okay.

Rabia: Can I ask you a question about your experience, though?

Zibby: Sure.

Rabia: When you said it worked — to me, it’s like a lot of diets. Every diet works when you’re doing it, but the minute you stop doing it — the point is, is it sustainable for your life? Diets aren’t.

Zibby: I was able to do this through a pregnancy. I did it for seven years. It consumed me. I feel like it actually became an eating disorder. All I would do was think about the points. I feel like I got too obsessed about the perfection of it. What I liked about it is that it took all the emotion out of food. I was like, should I have this cake or should I not? Well, whatever, it’s seven points. Do you have seven points to spare or not? I kind of liked that it talked to me that way. I don’t know why I’m talking about myself.

Rabia: No, this is interesting to me.

Zibby: My issue is more emotional eating. I get upset, and then I eat for two weeks. It’s not about the food. I feel full, and I just ignore it because it’s feeding something else in me. Weight Watchers, for me, just took that whole piece of my brain and dropped it off on the side. Then I got too into it, and I got really thin. I mean, for me. Not for most people. I also feel like I weigh — anyway, whatever. I’ll never be too thin for anyone else.

Rabia: It’s all complicated. You’re right. Although, with my mother, when I got to a certain point — I wasn’t too thin. I weighed around 165 pounds. I was super fit because I was strength training. This is literally just four or five years ago. My mother was like, “That’s it. You are getting too skinny. I think you have cancer. Do you have cancer? Are you lying to me?” Sometimes, at least with my family, there’s a thing such as too thin. I have to be just right. My mom used to say to me — she still does. “Listen, as a lawyer, you have to have a little meat on your bones. If you’re too tiny, then you won’t have the gravitas. You won’t have the presence as an attorney.” I’m like, holy moly, just give me the weight range that works for you, Mom.

Zibby: Pleasing my mom could be five podcasts in a row. No, I’m kidding. She’s probably listening. It’s also, different generations, I feel like, have such different takes on your body and your eating. It’s hard to reconcile.

Rabia: And different cultures.

Zibby: Different cultures, yep. It’s an unwinnable situation, in a way.

Rabia: Unless you just do whatever you need to do and make yourself happy. That’s what I’ve learned. That’s all that matters to me now.

Zibby: Yes. Also, I want to be healthy too. All the science is like, no — I want to live long. Then on the other hand, when you have a little extra weight, then your cheeks look better. Your face looks better.

Rabia: Look, I’ll be forty-nine in a few months. A lot of people think that I’m younger. They’re like, how come? What’s the skin care? I’m like, I think it’s just the cheeks. I just have a little extra fat, really. It’s not a skin-care routine. It’s just having a little extra chub keeps you looking a little young. Healthy is important. That is a part of being happy for me now, is moving and putting things in my body that don’t make me feel terrible.

Zibby: How did writing the book affect your relationship with food? Did the analysis of it change anything? Was it just, it was already in your head, and you just dumped it out, so it didn’t really change anything anyway?

Rabia: The thing is, I could not have written the book until I had gotten to the point where my relationship with my body and food had already changed, stabilized, gotten better. I’m not saying I was at the point or I’ve ever been at the point where I’m like, I love body, but I finally was at the point where I didn’t hate my body. That took a lot of work. I’m sure just living to a certain age makes a difference. When you’re over forty, forty-five, there is something to be said about just not caring anymore about a lot of things, what people say, things like that. I couldn’t have written it until then. What writing the book helped me do was understand myself better and understand why I was where I was at different points in my life. It helped me understand people in my life, my family better as I wrote about them. With my mother eating in secret — she’s in her seventies. She still won’t eat with us. If you leave food out, in the morning, it’ll be gone. She’ll eat it at night, literally at three AM. We used to think she’s just so antisocial. She doesn’t want to sit and have a meal with us. We would take it personally, me and my siblings. We would resent her for it. I realized I ate in secret when I had shame around it, so there’s a story about her we don’t know. This is not about us. This is about something else. For that reason, I got to say it was a learning experience for me. My eldest is twenty-five, so there have been plenty of times that, as I was writing the book and I was saying, my family did this or my mother or whatever, I was like, oh, wait, I think I’ve done that too with my daughter. By the time I got done, I decided I’m never bringing these issues up again with her. Everybody has to have their own journey.

Zibby: No matter how right you play it with your own kids, though, I feel — I have four kids. The messages they get from their peers are so much more important. I’m like, “Wait, what did I do wrong that you feel like that?” She’s like, “This has nothing to do with you.” Sometimes it doesn’t come from the home.

Rabia: That’s for sure. I know that’s true. I have a fourteen-year-old as well. There was a number of years where — this is when she was around eleven, twelve years old. She’s a slender build naturally. She kind of stopped eating. We would watch her, me and my husband. We’d say, “What are you doing?” She would have little smidges of food on her plate and say, “I’m not hungry.” We realized it was social media. It was friends. It was other people who were like, we want to be super thin. This was around the time that I discovered strength training and began strength training. As she watched me do this, not only did it change my body, my emotional state, my mental health, everything — I felt incredible in my forties feeling so strong doing things I never thought my body could do. She was like, “Mama, I want to go to the gym with you.” As soon as she got old enough, I started taking her. When she started lifting weights, she started eating. I mean really eating. Now she runs cross country. She eats like an athlete, which is good food, but a lot of food, a lot of calories. I’m like, oh, thank god. I didn’t even have to tell her. She just saw this happen. I modeled it for her.

Zibby: Wow. Do you have memoirs by other authors that you love or that you hoped to make your book like?

Rabia: I read a number of food memoirs and a couple of weight-related memoirs before I started writing this. I realized none of these — obviously, there are times when certain stories, you’re like, okay, I get that. None of them resonated with me in terms of, oh, this is just like how I felt at the time. Roxane Gay’s Hunger, that’s a really deeply — her experience was incredibly traumatic as a child. I didn’t have that, frankly. The story that resonated for me was My Big Fat Greek Wedding. When I watch that film, that’s my family. You know they’re loving, but they just are going about their concern the wrong way. I love memoirs. I just started reading this one last night.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, my favorite book. It’s literally my favorite book of the whole year. A Place Called Home, David Ambroz.

Rabia: I won’t take that personally.

Zibby: I’m sorry. I loved your book too, but this book is like, you know.

Rabia: David and I shared a panel in Boston. He signed a book for me. I signed a book for him. Then we’ve become friends since. My book tour just ended two days ago, so I didn’t have time to start reading it. Last night at one AM, I cracked it. I couldn’t put it down.

Zibby: That’s how I felt.

Rabia: He’s a beautiful writer, but his story is just heartbreaking, shattering. I’m going to get through it probably pretty quickly. Then I’m going to reach out to him. I don’t even know if I’m going to have the words to process the emotions and convey how incredibly — he’s an incredible human being. He’s so accomplished and so kind and positive.

Zibby: I’m so glad you said that because I read it over Thanksgiving, and I haven’t talked to anybody who’s been reading it yet. Just on Instagram.

Rabia: He’s a beautiful writer. The writing is incredible.

Zibby: He is. I know. I read it in one day. My family was like, hello? You want to hang out with us? I was like, no, I’m good.

Rabia: It’s beautiful.

Zibby: It’s really great. I loved your book too. I promise. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be on this podcast. I wouldn’t have read the whole thing, which I did. Do you have any advice for aspiring memoirists?

Rabia: I know a lot of people who want to write memoirs. For almost every single one, the thing that stops them is they have family who are living that they wouldn’t want them to read it. That’s true for me as well, but I’m lucky. Number one, most of my family doesn’t read. They really just don’t read. They’re not readers. I am the only real reader in my family. My dad would’ve read it, but he had a really severe stroke, and he’s not capable of reading anymore. That helps me. Also, I could’ve been much more — I was kind to a lot of people in the book. I wanted to talk about our relationship when it came to this specific issue, not about them as whole human beings. I’m not there to expose their lives and all these things. I think there’s a way to do this right. You shouldn’t have to wait for everybody you know to die off to write a memoir. The other thing that people usually have a concern about is verifying the facts. It’s kind of like what you said earlier. I don’t remember what memory you were talking about. You were like, that’s how I remember. Oh, the food. What matters is how we remember it. There are stories in the book in which there are lots of other family members there, but I’m not going to check in with them and say, how do you remember it? What matters is how I remember it. That’s my story. Don’t let those things hold you back from just sitting down and starting and putting pen to paper. It’s as powerful for you to learn who you are. I feel like I solved a little mystery of myself by the time I was done writing the book.

Zibby: That’s great. That’s the best line. It’s the greatest feeling to sort through stuff. That’s wonderful. I wrote a memoir too, actually.

Rabia: Oh, you did? Wonderful.

Zibby: I put that in the beginning. I was like, this is just how I remember it, but I don’t know what I did yesterday, so I hope this is an approximation of the truth.

Rabia: That’s all that matters. That’s your reality.

Zibby: It’s not that far off, but who knows? I feel very confident that I remember it the way it happened, but maybe I’m wrong. Anyway, congratulations on Fatty Fatty Boom Boom. I loved chatting with you about food and family and all the good stuff. I feel like I could have this conversation for a million years. I couldn’t wait to talk to you about it.

Rabia: Thank you so much, Zibby. Thank you. I know we’ve had some scheduling difficulties, so I appreciate your patience with all of that.

Zibby: No worries. This worked out even better for me too, so all good.

Rabia: Thanks so much. Nice to meet you. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Thanks a lot. Nice to meet you. Buh-bye.

Rabia Chaudry

Rabia Chaudry, FATTY FATTY BOOM BOOM: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family

FATTY FATTY BOOM BOOM: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family by Rabia Chaudry

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