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Archive for October, 2012

Yeah, you, my old friend. My new(ish) nemesis. I showed up at work today – Halloween – to be confronted by trays of orange cookies and bucket after bucket after bucket of Halloween candy. Seriously, that shit is everywhere. Pretty much everyone with a clean surface area has filled some kind of plastic pumpkin with candy, and those who aren’t offering it at their desks are often bringing it around. Bringing it to me! Which is NOT what I need.

I went to get my coffee this morning and found this:

Just hangin’ out. Thousands of empty calories, piles of disgusting, deadly sugar.

Of course, I wanted all of it.

Back when I began this process of lifestyle transformation a little over a year ago, my trainer told me that first I would overcome my addiction to sugar – which I have – and then I would lose my taste for it altogether. She said, “You’ll find that it doesn’t even taste good to you anymore. That really it’s actually pretty disgusting and has no appeal to you.” I am here now, 15 months later, to say, “Wrong.” That was wrong. Sugar still has a very clear and definite appeal to me. Not every day, mind you, and certainly not in the same way. I can look at it and know that it’s bad for me and pointless to eat, that having it will give me a moment of pleasure followed by a lot of completely unpleasurable feelings – like guilt, sluggishness, moodiness, and weight gain – that last much longer. Most of the time, I can see a sugar-laden product, a piece of candy or a cupcake, and understand that I don’t want it, that it really will do nothing for me. Occasionally, even, I think it’s gross. But just as often – if not more often! – it still looks completely enticing.

I was at a birthday dinner last night where the birthday girl got a free sundae. It wasn’t even a very good sundae, dinky and small, more whipped cream than ice cream and severely lacking in toppings. I knew I didn’t want it and that it wouldn’t be good, and yet, it still looked awesome to me. All those colorful sprinkles on top of that white mountain of coolness, ringed by a dark chocolate lake. I had a visceral desire to squash my hand into it, so I could somehow still feel it, become one with it, while still not eating it.

This may be the difference between a person without food issues who has a well-regulated diet (my trainer), and someone (cough…me) who is a food addict. Mother-fuckin’ cupcakes are always going to look good to me! They just ARE. I associate them with joy, like all desserts. Hell, I get excited by drawings of desserts. I just like the way the stuff looks – all happy and layered and multi-colored. Desserts are festive, and often geometrically compelling (a slice of three-layered cake? Lines and triangles? Come on, it’s a great visual!) And so, even though most days, I can genuinely say that not only do I not eat candy, but also I don’t WANT to eat candy, there are still some days – days like candy’s very special personal holiday where it’s hard to feel that way. Today, I remember the joy of accumulating a plastic orange pumpkin full of treats that I could then take home and organize into varying categories of desirableness, with candy bars at the top, sweet tarts (too tart!) on the bottom, and skittles always with their special place in my heart. Today, I cannot separate the nostalgia and the emotional associations from the food. So my best option? Is just to stay the hell away from it. Some day I may be able to have just one mini Snickers and then stop. But it is not this day. This day, I toast pumpkin seeds and tell myself it’s totally as good. It mostly is.

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It constantly surprises me how quickly things can spiral out of control. At first, it’s just Kind bars when I need a portable snack, and then it’s Kind bars once a day because they taste like candy bars to me now. And then one day it’s three Kind bars in a day because they are there and easier to get to than real food.

It’s dark chocolate because one square of 85% dark chocolate is not a big deal, and really does – psychosomatically or not – make me feel more stabilized and sane sometime. But then one square becomes four squares because they’re little and only add up to 75 calories. And then once I’m eating chocolate anyway, it’s easy to eat more, so it turns into a couple – maybe three – rows of squares. And eventually, I am having dark chocolate every day, at least 100 calories worth, and sometimes much more.

It’s the belief that I can just take a bite of something, to have the taste of it, to just appreciate it and let it go. I do believe that having one bite is a good way to engage with food, to enjoy rich foods appropriately. The key though, is remembering that it’s just one bite, and not of every single thing. It’s very easy for that one bite to turn into three bites. Or to convince myself that, because I had one bite of my friend’s dessert, I can have one bite of every dessert, and of the cheese too, and also maybe drink a sip of that champagne, and then it’s a pretty easy jump from there to just having my own portion of a thing, which however small, is still an actual portion of a food I’ve chosen not to eat for my own self, which I am nevertheless, eating anyway.

It’s making exception for special occasions and then turning everything into a special occasion. My mom was visiting and my friend was leaving our mutual job, and we were all at a party; so I decided that it was a good occasion for a glass of wine. This is how I will be making choices for the rest of my life, and I have no quarrel with it. My trainer disagrees, but I believe that a celebratory glass, the very occasional (I’m talking once, maybe twice a month) drink is a good way to make a change a manageable life-long behavior. The problem is when I then decide that I might as well have that bread with my dinner while we’re here, and also those sweet potato fries are mostly sweet potato, so we can just ignore the fry part. Even these small dalliances are not the true spiral. The true spiral occurs when the whole weekend becomes an opportunity for richer meals full of foods I don’t normally eat, and it becomes that opportunity not because I’ve planned it in advance, but because I am looking for a reason. I am looking for excuses.

Because spirals are really about losing focus. About looking around for something else besides the intentions, the actions I have chosen for myself and my own best interest. They are about loosening my hold, not to move more easily, but more recklessly, so that I can stop watching where I’m going. So that I can let go. But what I’m letting go of is myself.

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Not when home is made of butter anyway.

My mom was in town this weekend, which meant that we ate a lot of meals out. I still eat out all the time, but I’m fairly rigorous about where I’ll go. I peruse menus in advance to make sure they work for me, and I will flat out refuse ones without many options. This is not impossible to sustain over a period of time but can become harder when pretty much every meal is eaten out and I’m the only one to make the decision about where to go (but I feel pressure about going somewhere that will be fun and lovely and memorable and over all add to the positive experience of my mom’s trip).

So. On Sunday morning, my mom and I found ourselves in Atwater Village, and there was this cafe I’ve been wanting to check out because it sources its ingredients locally and organically, which are pretty much magic words for me. As it turned out, cafe equaled bakery, and there’s just no way to justify a breakfast pastry; so I had to think of something else. Which ended up being a French restaurant across the street that I used to go to all the time.

My friend Alison discovered it as a brunch location a couple of years ago, and oh shit, is their brunch good. The first time we went, the restaurant was packed, so we ended up sitting at the community table – a long heavy wooden table occupying the bright area by the restaurant’s front window. Two women who were friends with one of the chefs also happened to be sitting there, and as their chef friend sent dish after dish out to them, these two women shared their over-abundance of food with the rest of us at the table. As a result, Alison and I tried pretty much everything on the menu. And oh, the apple smoked bacon. Oh, the country eggs with herb cream cheese. Oh, the most amazing ridiculously delicious lemon ricotta pancake I have ever eaten in my life. We were hooked, and we ate there a lot. I took people there often. It’s an adorable, well-appointed and delicious restaurant. The brunch is one of the best I’ve had in LA. (It’s Canale, for any locals who might be wondering.)

I was very sad to lose it when I changed my eating habits. Because even though they have reasonably healthy options, once I was eating healthy, I found that I just couldn’t go back. I wanted the ricotta pancakes and those thick slabs of bacon. I could get egg white scrambles anywhere; there was no need to tempt myself while doing so.

So my visit with my mom was my first trip back in a year and a half. And oh my goodness, the food was just as good as ever. I thought about the ricotta pancakes, but I am far enough into this thing now to not feel a real need for them. I ordered an omelet and only got the vegetable fillings, which happened to be tomato confit, grilled onions and greens. It came with a salad and potatoes, and it was amazingly delicious.

But here’s how I know something has changed in me, fundamentally. An hour later… I did not feel so good. My stomach cramped up and then, not to be indelicate but… I got to spend some quality time in the bathroom. My mom had the same problem. My mom has also had her gall bladder removed and, as a result, cannot process rich foods. I still have my gall bladder, but apparently, I can’t handle them either.

I imagine the omelet’s innards and maybe the omelet itself were cooked in butter, something I never consume anymore. And my body, which once endured fistfuls of cheese-filled sweet breakfast cakes along with bacon and eggs and a latte, can no longer handle even a fraction of that richness. My body likes its food clean because that’s what it’s used to now, and that’s what’s good for it.

So I can look at the rich food, and appreciate what it might taste like, but this is just one more reminder that that food isn’t my home anymore. Nor should it be.

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Today at lunch, a restaurant manager plopped a giant chocolate heath-bar cake in front of me.

More accurately, she placed it in front of my good friend, Laura, whom I was sitting next to. Laura is breaking free of our 9-5 job, and we were at her going away lunch. Somehow, this massive cake was part of that celebration. It was not expected. Laura had her picture taken with it (as did I, by default), and then the manager took it away to be cut into slices for everyone. Some restaurants have bakery displays with enormous cakes, so large they seem overgrown, like something out of Dr. Seuss, and somehow as fanciful and alluring, and this restaurant is one of those places. Pies twice the size of your face, cakes you could use as a foot stool. And suddenly, everyone at our table was getting in on the foot-stool-sized cake, with giant wedges of thick, rich, multi-layered chocolate richness.

Stuff like this feels almost like an assault to me now. I’m enjoying a perfectly nice, healthy and balanced lunch – a turkey sandwich on whole wheat with hummus and a salad, when out of nowhere – Bam! Sugar bomb! Of course, I didn’t have a slice. But I totally get why people would. It’s right the fuck there! It’s free cake! Being handed to you! That is hard to say no to.

In fact, I couldn’t even resist pinching a piece of the icing from Laura’s slice and popping it in my mouth. Just to see. Just to be part of things. The desire to be included in the treat-eating community always comes up for me. It’s so deeply implanted; I’m sure because of the uncountable number of times in life that treats were shared as signs of celebration and love, it just got hardwired in as equaling those things. Not surprising that I don’t want to be left out of love, community, and celebration. It explains a lot of why people who don’t intend to eat the dessert end up saying, “Oh well, okay. Just this once.” (It’s never just this once.)

But that bite I ate? Was so fucking AMAZING! I was moving that single, thick, buttery, intensely sweet and rich morsel of chocolate icing around in my mouth, and I felt the endorphins flooding my head. I felt the buoyant rush of joy and deliciousness. The thoughts in my brain tumbling over themselves with ohmygoditissogooditisthebestthingever!! Iamsohappy!! Ijustwantthisinmymouthallthetime!!! Soooooohaaaapppppy! JOY! ZOMG! It flooded me that quickly, and I caught myself just as it was spiraling into “Let’s eat it all! LET’S EAT IT ALL RIGHT NOW!” And because I don’t get this sensation very much anymore, I was aware of how abnormal it was. Out loud, I said, “Damn, that stuff is some kind of crack.”

Because seriously? It is. That is NOT a normal reaction. Food should not be that stimulating. Or, fine, it can be. Uber-stimulation is fun after all. But we should at least acknowledge it for what it is.

Instead, most people – including myself for many, many years – just consume sweets with zombie-like disengagement. Eating it, bite after bite, needing more and more to keep up that delicious rushing feeling, not noticing how intense it is because we’re numbed to it from too much exposure. And numb too to how rich it is, how filling. I snuck a second little pinch of icing after that first one, and immediately, I felt not so great – overwhelmed by the richness, overfull from the intensity of it. All together, it was smaller than the first of many normal-sized bites I would have once taken, and it was already too much. Because I’m sensitive to it now, I knew to recognize that feeling and stop. But not too long ago, I would have just kept eating it, chasing that amazing feeling, until it was replaced by an actual feeling of illness.

Which, of course, is how everyone who ate the cake felt later. One coworker felt sluggish; another felt ill, and another got a headache. And it seems normal because it’s what we’re pushed towards. Everything is an opportunity to celebrate, and every opportunity can be super-sized. About an hour after getting back to the office, Laura chatted me: “I hate that in our society cake is a gift. I understand it, but I kinda want to be like ‘let’s all eat carrots instead!'”

Two years ago, I would have hated the woman who was like, carrots instead of cake! But now I completely agree. Because as sweet as it tastes, cake turns out to not be a very good gift.

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Every time I get out of the shower now, I have a moment of awesome. It’s a little thing, but it’s one of the many small moments that makes this whole process of change so worthwhile. I can wrap a normal frickin’ towel around my body, and secure it folding the extra bit into the snug wrapped part. And then I can walk around without flashing my empty bedroom or the busy gym locker room any of my lady parts.

And this is awesome because it’s something I haven’t been able to do for years. At least not with a normal towel. With a beach towel, sure. And I sure as hell carried a beach towel with me everywhere I could use. It’s certainly the kind of towel I kept at home. Because it’s nice to get out of the shower, wrap oneself in a towel, and walk around. And if it takes a towel big enough to act as your beach bedspread to do it, hey… well that’s what it takes.

I figured that trick out years ago, and I barely had to even remember that I was different from my trimmer friends. I could wrap my towel around me after i got out of the pool too. Sure my towel took up a lot more room in my bag than anyone else’s did, but WHATEVER. It worked.

Unless I ended up in a place where the towel was provided for me. Like a hotel, or a hotel pool, or a friend’s house, or the locker room at my most recent gym. Then, I would be stuck with a standard issue towel. The kind that was still plenty big enough, the kind my friends could still easily wrap themselves in. It’s stressful to try to hide the fact that the bath towel won’t go all the way around your body. To try to figure out which part of your bare body you’d most like exposed, which part will seem most on purpose. (For the record – the side.) It’s awkward having to hold your dirty clothes/wet bathing suit over that exposed area where the two ends of the towel don’t meet in an effort to obscure that gap. It’s awkward to walk around without dropping anything, including the towel.

It was amazing the day I realized that I’d wrapped the gym towel all the way around my body and done the tuck in. It was like I had a beach towel! But I didn’t. It was the same old standard issue gym towel that I’d been holding with a hand pressing each end firmly onto my body. Only now, I didn’t have to hold it up – because it mother-fuckin’ fit! And lo, I was a normal woman, just like the other women in the gym, walking around in my towel, appropriately covered, but not wrapped up like a nun, hands free, my body a normal circumference. It still makes me smile every time I do it. Which is almost every day.

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