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Archive for October, 2013

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I am 10 years old, sitting cross-legged on the rug by my bed, finishing my homework in eager anticipation of the evening. I am filled with excitement and a sense of possibility. I think I remember this moment and feeling so well because it was the first time I experienced that rare joyful bubbling that exists on the edge of a long-awaited event, a feeling that often, in retrospect, is the best, happiest moment of whatever is about to unfold.

It was Halloween, and my family was having a lot of people over – my friends from the neighborhood and their parents. There was going to be dinner and a pinata and, of course, trick-or-treating. Halloween was my favorite holiday, even edging out Christmas (because it contained no anxiety about the arrival of Santa Clause). In that moment in my bedroom, I felt safe and excited at the same time, like I was at the beginning of something and in the middle of it too, surrounded by life, an eager participant.

I remember nothing else of that night. I can guess the generalities based on years of similar celebrations: people filling the kitchen and den. The moment when the dads assembled all us children in the front room, flashlights in hand, family dogs on their leashes to begin our expedition into the night. The way the neighborhood divided itself into houses we knew, like lights on a grid, and houses we didn’t (which we didn’t go to). The counting out of candy from my plastic orange pumpkin, separating it into piles and trading it with my brother and friends. How I could eat whatever I wanted and how all that sugary treasure was mine, just mine, for once in a year to do with as I chose and not as I was told.

I always ate a lot of my candy at first and then savored it for weeks, drawing out the preciousness of my own private stash. Years later, I remember being shocked at one of my college friends coming back from the grocery store on November 1st with bag after bag of mini candy bars and Skittles bags – all that precious candy purchased easily at a steep discount. Despite having been past trick-or-treating age for a few years (although I held onto it longer than most), it seemed amazing to me that those hard-won treats could be so easily gotten. It was a strange realization that I was an adult and could do whatever I wanted, including buying giant bags of fun-size candy bars and eating them all.

I never did that in particular, but I found a lot of ways to eat food that had been forbidden to me growing up. It was not to my benefit, that compulsive consumption of sugar cereal, ice cream by the pint, king-sized bags of candy every night with my homework, but I kept doing it for years and years because it felt like freedom to me. I saw it as the place I got to break away from restriction and choose what I wanted and when. And not just for one holiday a year.

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The owner of the gym my trainer uses (where I train with her) is a muscle bound man – the kind who used to do muscle building competitions. He is intimidating, although he has always been kind to me. He doesn’t seem like he’s paying attention to us, but apparently he is because he mentioned me to my trainer the other day, saying how incredibly hard I worked out. He said I was so fit and I worked out so hard that I should have the best body in the whole gym. So he wanted to ask my trainer, what was going on?

Indeed. What is going on? I am sliding into the fourth month of the second year of oscillating in the same five-pound range without losing any actual weight. Why?

Well, for one thing, because I eat what I feel like a lot more than I used to. And while what I feel like eating is very different than it used to be, it is still not as clean as it could be, as it needs to be. For example, while I no longer eat cupcakes or similar sweets, I feel free to eat treats made without sugar, flour or butter (aka with maple syrup, coconut flour and coconut butter). It’s better for me, yes. But it’s still a treat. So when I have say, five muffins, because I’ve made them for a party so I tested one and then I got to the party and just lost all semblance of reasonableness, it’s no longer good for me. In fact, it’s a return to my old habits of compulsive eating. And clearly, that does not help with weight loss.

So why do I do this? I am acting like I don’t think I can lose the weight or like I don’t want to. And there is truth in both of these statements. Because I really can’t lose the weight if I don’t want to – I’ll just keep sabotaging myself – and some part of me must not – does not want to.

Truthfully, I can’t imagine being truly, like, flat-stomach thin. I don’t know what it would be like to move in the world that way, how I would feel. I have a long history of being afraid of change and the unknown. Often, I avoid them both (even though I am also drawn to them both). So it makes sense that I would get to a point of losing weight and then not feel comfortable losing more.

I am not content to stay as I am though. There are still lessons for me to learn about my relationship with food. If it were truly healthy, I would not eat five muffins at a party. I would be better able to recognize when I’m hungry and when I’m full. And then there’s the health element: it’s not healthy for me to carry this weight around my middle, and I don’t want to. Also, I don’t want to stop here. I started this thing, and I want to see it through. To prove to myself I can.

So now I just have to take a hard look at what it will take and what I’m willing to do to get there. Knowing that someone else – especially someone I’m not close to – has noticed this too is motivating. I think because it gives me fresh eyes on something I know but have been pretending not to see.

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I am reading Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God – re-reading actually. I first read it a little over three years ago, and I think, at the time, it both set the groundwork for me to start really believing I could change my relationship with food and was not something I was fully ready for. Because reading it now, I feel like every line is spoken to me, about me, for me.

In a recent chapter, she talked about the two kinds of eaters: Permitters and Restrictors, and I recognized myself in every detail she gives about Permitters:

“Permitters prefer going through life in a daze. That way, they don’t need to feel pain – theirs or anyone else’s. If I’m not aware of it, there’s nothing to fix. If I go through life asleep, I don’t need to be concerned about the future because I won’t be aware of it. If I give up trying, I won’t be disappointed when I fail… Permitters operate on the need to be safe in what they consider hostile or dangerous situations… They see no point in trying to control the uncontrollable and have decided that it’s best to be blurry and numb and join the party.”

This was me, for well over a decade. A writer I don’t know was able to distill the essence of my behavior and motivations in about a paragraph. And recognizing myself in her words has been such a gift in helping me understand my own process of transformation and why it is so valuable.

I really was blurry and numb for years – using food and alcohol to deaden my senses. It’s strange to think now that I routinely spent both weekend nights drunk (and sometimes a week night too), that the point of the night was finding a fun and social way to get drunk. Of course, the true point of all of it for me was just to get to more food. I always knew I didn’t have a drinking problem, even when I drank a lot, because I knew what it was to have an addictive and unhealthy relationship with a substance; it’s just that, for me, it was food. The nights of partying were always opportunities to eat with abandon. Late night diner meals, bar snacks, drunk snacking at home in the wee hours of the morning. In my early 20s, one of my favorite 3am activities was to bake cookies drunk and then eat them. I often made horrible cookies, forgetting ingredients, messing up the baking time; I always ate them.

And the reason behind this behavior that Roth speaks to was absolutely the truth for me: it was a way not to feel pain, not to be present, not to be disappointed. It was all a way to hide.

The process of coming out of hiding for me is both a slow and a fast one. It only takes a moment, a single action to live differently. In an instance, I can come forward and be my true self. But the practice of being present, of acting on my own behalf is a constant one that I repeat daily, in moment after moment, and it is a long transformation into being in the world in a new way. Discovering a new relationship with food and with my health has been the path that has led me back to myself though. It’s a path I’m still on, and it’s not always easy or successful. But the more I understand that I will always be on this journey, the more i can appreciate it. Because it’s the journey of my true self.

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We are getting our first real fall weather here in Los Angeles, and I love it. Autumn has always been my favorite season; the crisp air and shortening days speak of possibility to me.

The food of fall is some of my favorite too. I love the arrival of fall produce at the markets: the crisp, juicy apples, the gourds in all their strange shapes and alluring colors. They remind me of the years in college and after when I visited my aunt on weekends in her coastal Connecticut town. One of our big activities was driving over to Bishop’s, the large farm stand in the area, where we would buy bags of apples and the best fresh cider I have ever had (which my best friend called “liquid gold”). And now, visiting farmer’s markets around LA, I get so excited when the piles of gourds appear with their different, delicious options: spaghetti squash, butternut squash, pumpkins, kabocha.

There was a long period of time, though, when I appreciated this bounty mostly through the co-opting of pumpkin to add season flavor to an endless stream of food products. Just as the marketing campaigns would like us to believe, fall to me did mean pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin scones. Pumpkin honestly makes everything delicious, so it’s no surprise that I liked all these foods. The 380 calories in a pumpkin spiced latte (from Starbucks) is surprising to me – or rather, it was. I know now that most of those foods have more sugar than actual pumpkin (and some don’t have any pumpkin in them at all), and as my views about food change, that reality makes them less delicious to me.

So now I focus on enjoying fall’s bounty in a more direct way: by eating the actual pumpkin, the actual apples, and all the other delicious produce out there. I am relearning how to bake with pumpkin, so it is a healthier experience. I’ve now made this pumpkin bar recipe about a dozen times, and I’m excited to try more recipes. In the meantime, I am cutting up gourds and cooking them in as many ways as I can think of: mixed with meat in the slow cooker, roasted as spears to simulate sweet potato fries, cut in half and baked to enjoy in their natural richness. It’s such a bounty. It makes me feel so fortunate.

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Earlier this week I walked down to the commissary on the Lot where I work to eat lunch and was surprised to find it swarmed with many more people than usual, many of who were wearing red. The source attracting the masses became clear immediately: a large Sprinkles cupcake booth. What was less clear was why it was there and why so many women were wearing the same shade of red. So I started poking around and found this sign (which had fallen off its display stand):

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Does anyone else see what’s wrong with this?! Does anyone else find it infuriating?

The event – and fundraiser! – for Women’s World Heart Day was a cupcake festival. Presumably, since the proceeds of this fundraiser were going to the American Heart Association, this World Heart Day was about heart health. And what could be healthier for our hearts than a calorie bomb of sugar, fat, and processed ingredients?! Oh wait… that’s right: pretty much everything.

Sprinkles cupcakes are giant, sugar and fat-laden concoctions often topped with candies, cookies, and/or cream. They have negligible nutritional value, and their calorie range is anywhere between 400 and 600 calories per cupcake.  This kind of calorie bomb, along with major ingredients like sugar, contribute to conditions that create and exacerbate heart disease (among other ailments). So WHAT the fuck is this about?

Willful ignorance, presumably. We live in a society that has all the answers we need about dietary health but that continues to promote eating highly processed, sugar-laden, crap food because it’s a major source of profit. People are encouraged to buy (literally) into unhealthy behavior through constant marketing of products created intentionally to be more desirable and addictive because of their flavor palates. And this heart health day at work is a great example of how insidious it is.

These cupcakes at work were being sold as a fundraiser for the American Heart Association. That action was encouraging people (lots of people – there was a line) to buy something that is actively bad for their heart health. This double message is infuriating because it says: Support heart health! By buying and consuming this thing that hurts your heart’s health!

I’m not saying people can’t have cupcakes, or even that they can’t be sold as part of a fundraiser (although I really think there are more responsible fundraising options). But I think it’s horribly irresponsible to use a product that contributes to poor health to promote good health. It’s like having a Virginia Slims stand at a cancer awareness event – except that people would recognize how ludicrous that would be. We have not reached that level of awareness with highly processed foods yet, although hopefully some day we will.

 

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