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Oh hai.

I sort of wandered off there for a bit. Wandered off and ate pretty much everything I could get my hands on, to be precise about it.

Later on the day of my last post, I went to my office holiday party. It was my first year as a staff member (instead of a contractor) and, thus, my first invitation to the holiday party (because my company is SO inclusive). I expected it to be annoying, since I resented it from two years of non-invites, but what it was was swanky. Rooftop of a building in Hollywood, great views, fancy everything, free booze, lots of food. And I found ways to have fun: I drank with my coworkers and I ate with my coworkers. I just let go, and it was GREAT. Nothing to care about, no more trying or straining or struggling. Just fancy and free. I ate a lot of desserts and I didn’t even care because I was kind of drunk – and they were all delicious!

Thus began my descent into December decadence. I just ate, whenever, wherever, whatever. It was super fun. Sometimes I felt physically ill and that was less fun. Eventually, I started to get anxious about what I was doing to myself, and that was also less fun. By the time the New Year rolled around, I had packed on seven pounds in a little over two weeks. Because this body? It does not play.

The seven pounds were a good hint, but they weren’t the only reason I knew it was time to stop the party train. I didn’t feel as good; my body felt different, heavier and more awkward. And I didn’t feel great about myself either. All these old anxieties came flooding back. I have a lot of confidence and value wrapped up in the work I do to take care of my health – in my ability to exercise hard and be in good shape, in my conscious choices to eat well and choose real food.

So. I put down the chocolate croissant (and the pizza and the gummy candies) and got back to work.

It’s intense. I hated it at first. I hate it sometimes still. I do best when I focus on just one day at a time. And when I understand this as an opportunity to look at my relationship with food, to understand it better, to keep working towards that healthier median.

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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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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):

blogcupcakebs

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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The fury I felt from reading the following article sub-head basically just caused my head to explode:

The Sugar Association — up until the mid-1970s — aggressively advertised sugar as a healthy weight loss and diet aid.

Yeah, you read that right. Go ahead and click on the link to get REALLY angry. You’ll see such gems as this one:

via buzzfeed via motherjones.com

via buzzfeed 

It’s an apple – obviously! Those three teaspoons of highly processed sweetener crack are MUCH better for you than an apple. That fattening terrible apple that came from nature and has nutrients. Gross. If you really want to succeed on your “reducing plan,” make sure you have some sugar:

via buzzfeed

via buzzfeed

…because it give you energy! More so than that crappy old egg. I mean, an egg has almost 80 calories in it, whereas a teaspoon of sugar only has 18. And everyone knows that it’s all about calories. The nutritional value of the food has no bearing on anything at all.

via buzzfeed

via buzzfeed

This ad is perhaps the most horrifying of them all, and the text is probably too small to read, so let me just share the biggest gem from it:

“There’s a useful psychological effect, too. The good natural sweetness of sugar is like a little reward that promotes a sense of satisfaction and well-being.”

There, at last, is some truth in advertising. It sure is a useful psychological effect – that little reward just keeps you coming back for more. And more and then some more. I know that’s how it worked for me for years. Things didn’t turn out quite like these advertisements (which I was not alive to read anyway) claimed they would.

Of course, I find this all so infuriating because the years of research since – and my own personal experience – have shown just how damaging the consumption of sugar is. And yet, here it is being sold as a nutrition supplement. It’s a good reminder – and one that still applies today – not to believe anything being sold as a weight-loss cure. Or really anything that’s being sold. There’s always a spin and always a hidden motivation, and that motivation is profit, not our well-being.

 

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I have the worst sweet tooth. It is intense, deep-running, and cavity riddled. Since childhood, it has driven me in an all-encompassing pursuit of sugar. I could happily fall asleep with a sugar cube tucked under my tongue.

So giving up refined sugar was a challenge. One that made me sick almost immediately and took all my energy and focus to accomplish. It was worth the effort, of course, but giving up sugar did not mean the end of my sweet tooth. Even if I don’t eat sugar, I’ll always appreciate the sweeter greens over the more bitter ones, the sweet citrus over the tart. And I’ve never stopped wanting sweet snacks.

When I first stopped eating sugar and the cravings were at their most intense, I asked a friend who had walked this path before me what she did when she had a sweet craving. She told me she ate some fruit with nuts. I wanted to punch her. That was not a dessert. It could not possibly count. Fruit and nuts were lame. Except… they were actually pretty good together.

Once I had re-sensitized my taste buds, I discovered that fruit is amazing and delicious. In all honesty, the best version of this list would look like this:
1. fruit
2. fruit
3. fruit
4. fruit
5. fruit
But since that doesn’t take very much thought, here’s a more comprehensive, if totally fruit-reliant list:#1 – Fruit and nuts, as just mentioned. As it turns out, eating some almonds with banana tastes kind of like banana pudding if you haven’t had banana pudding or anything like it in awhile. For me, almonds with any fruit gives a sense of substance to the sweetness that feels just cake-like enough to me to be satiating.

#2 – Fruit and yogurt. This is another great way to gussy up a fruit snack. Plain, nonfat (or full-fat depending on your belief system regarding dairy) Greek yogurt mixed with fruit is delicious, and blended with ice (or frozen fruit), it can go a long way to fixing the fro-yo craving. I personally like room temperature yogurt with apples and cinnamon. Or with cherries. I like my ice blended yogurt with berries or tropical fruit for the smoothie experience.

#3 – Fake banana ice-cream. If you really want to pretend like ice cream is still a part of you life, here’s a trick that my brilliant friend Laura taught me:
-Cut a banana into slices and freeze them (which takes hours, of course).
-Blend the frozen banana slices in a food processor with a splash of almond milk and a dash of vanilla extract until the blended substance looks like fro-yo in consistency.
-Add a teaspoon (give or take – I clearly didn’t pay attention to the measurements) of cocoa powder, and blend again.

Voila! You have some mo-fo soft-serve banana chocolate Nothing In This Is Bad For You! deliciousness. I have served it to guests, and they ate it all. If you want to get really crazy (and less calorie conscious) you can also add peanut butter. (I know!)

#4 – Dates. There’s an episode of the wonderful comedy “Parks and Recreation” where the gang is waiting for Ron Swanson to start a barbecue and is getting really hungry. The always health-conscious Chris Traeger admits, to everyone’s delight, that he has some candy. Then he pulls out raisins and everyone groans. Undeterred, he brightly declares, “Nature’s candy.” I will submit that raisins don’t have shit on dates for being nature’s candy. Dates are amazing! They are fruit, and they taste like dense, rich dessert joy. They are a great way to sweeten anything. I eat them straight. They are dense in calories as well as deliciousness though, so, you know, be mindful.

#5 – Roasted Vegetables. I know. They’re not really dessert. But if you roast the hell out of some root vegetables (and even Brussel sprouts), the caramelizing that occurs makes the vegetables so tender and sweet that they might as well be candy. Healthy, nutrient-dense candy. I can eat bowls of it. It’s delicious. Trust.

So there you have it. This will not seem like much next to a bag of jellybeans, but those jellybeans have nothing for you but energy crashes and sadness, and everything listed above is delicious and nutrient-rich and sustaining. Go get some.

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Doo-doo-doo…we interrupt this regularly scheduled blog… to bring you a wedding rant.

Because it’s all starting to get to me.

I am getting married in less than two months, and and planning a wedding, as it turns out, is a bitch. A joyful, love-filled bitch, but still… a bitch.

It’s like having an unpaid job that people seem constantly astounded and offended to discover I’m not working harder at. On top of my actual job – you know, the one I do for a living. The last time we spoke to our wedding coordinator (a month-of planner whom we still speak to despite it not yet being the month of), she seemed genuinely confused to hear that I had not thought enough about centerpieces and escort cards to have made a decision about them.

I show you my backside, wedding planning crap!

I show you my backside, wedding planning crap!

Does she know how many decisions I’m having to make? She does, of course. And maybe other people are excited to make a lot of decisions. Or can do it faster. I, however, am a slow and methodical decision maker. Which is also known as being indecisive. And I have major decision fatigue.

Pick a location, pick a day, pick a time, pick a menu, pick colors, pick a theme. (Which really? There is no theme. The theme is “marriage.” For awhile, my fiance and I had this great joke that we didn’t get to use nearly enough: When asked the theme, we’d say, “Corn… I mean, maize.” Because it’s a stupid-but-just-plausible-enough theme that we could actually spin that yarn out. The colors would be yellow and green of course!)

Pick a dress, pick dresses for your friends, pick friends, pick an officiant, pick music, and then more music, pick a photographer, flowers, cake, hotel, shoes, hairstyle, words to express your love. The list is never-ending. I just re-did it today. It is 58 items long. And that’s just what I came up with, typing at my desk at work, off the top of my head. Every day there are new tasks, new challenges, new frustrations.

Yesterday, it was chairs. Our reception will be at a restaurant, and everything is included from the napkins to the waitstaff. It’s brilliant. I’m very proud of us for this decision. Somehow though, we totally overlooked the cost of chairs for the ceremony, which is on a lawn in a public space. We knew we’d have to rent chairs for it, of course. We just didn’t know that those chairs, or rather the privilege of borrowing them for two hours, would cost us TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS. Over a grand! For chairs! That we don’t even keep! And they are not flaked with gold. Or edible. I feel like an idiot for not having foreseen this problem, but really, how was I supposed to know? How many weddings have I planned before this one? None. I knew the chairs wouldn’t be free, but the quote is well over twice what I expected to pay. Because they’re CHAIRS. That we are not buying. But unless we want Stephen’s grandmother sitting on a yoga mat, or everyone who flew in from out of state standing, we just get to suck it up and rent the Golden Chairs (gold not included).

Today’s special something, which is what has inspired me to write all of this because it was the “just one more thing” I wasn’t ready to digest, was an RSVP we received from a friend who RSVP-ed yes to the wedding (great) and added with his name “and guest.” We did not invite him with a guest. He just gave himself one. Are you fucking kidding me? You can’t DO THAT, dude. This isn’t a keg party. Or even a holiday party. You can’t just be like, “Mind if I bring a friend?” Because guess what? We mind!

Here are some numbers to explain why:
3: Number of months I spent fighting with my parents over the guest list
17: Number of personal friends I truly wanted to invite whom we didn’t have room for
14: Number of family members we’re not inviting
7: Number of those family members I really want to invite
15: Number (approximate – I don’t have his list in front of me so I’m guessing) of friends Stephen didn’t invite
40: Approximate number of friends’ children we didn’t invite
59: Number of people more than our venue can fit whom we invited

Yeah, that’s what all the fighting was about for all those months, and we obviously did a mediocre job of resolving it. So guess what, pal? You don’t get to add a guest for yourself!

It kind of blows my mind, maybe a lot, that someone thinks this is an acceptable way to behave. And then it also astounds me that I find myself caring about something this small. Why does it matter? The truth is, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t. But as this event (which I know will be joyous and love-filled, so maybe I should say… the planning for this event) takes over my life, I start to care about little things that shouldn’t matter because there are other little things that do matter – like cooking healthy meals for myself and Stephen or hiking together on the weekends or reading – that get pushed aside.

My goal has been for our wedding not to take over my life, and I suppose if I have realized that goal for all except the last 2.5 months, then really, I’ve done okay. And I recognize the beauty and joy of many of the ways it’s taken over. Already there is so much celebrating and so many opportunities to share love with the many people we care about. So I’m grateful, really. I just wish it could be BYOchair.

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So here’s a thing that happened…

Remember all those cookies I ate on Christmas? I was expecting those to have a somewhat negative impact on the ole scale when I got back to Los Angeles.

It wasn’t just the cookies either (or the cake). I ate wheat and corn the whole time I was gone. My family practically subsisted on tamales during my visit. (Seriously, we had them four times in three days including twice on Christmas Eve.) I might have consumed some cheese. I definitely drank half a glass of wine. And while I did exercise, I managed to get in four days a week instead of my usual six to seven. It wasn’t horrible, particularly not for a holiday week and a vacation week; but it was clearly way out of line with how I’ve been living. And since my habit of coloring only the littlest bit outside of that line has kept me from losing any real amount of weight in the last six months, I figured these liberal transgressions would really make me pay.

Except that they didn’t.

I stepped on the scale my first morning back home, and I had gone down two pounds. Or one pound. It actually depended on when I stepped on the scale. (There is clearly something wrong with my scale, which is a relatively new, high-quality digital scale; but my weight shouldn’t fluctuate by a full pound up and then down and then up again in a matter of minutes.) Regardless though, it’s lower. Whether it’s one or two pounds or somewhere in the middle, the scale trended down, and that was not what I was expecting.

I do not know why that happened. I do not have answers. What I understand is that, to lose weight, I eat very clean, healthy food and exercise vigorously and consistently. I don’t know how an “eat some cookies and tamales and skip the gym” plan fits in as a weight-loss technique. I mean, obviously, it doesn’t. Obviously, if I were to continue on that path (which I am already not doing), I would start gaining weight instead of losing it. There is no miracle tamale diet.

Here are the only theories I/my friends have come up with:
1. Metabolism confusion – Something about how my body is so used to not having crap food and excess calories that when it suddenly got those things, it got all confused, which revved up my metabolism. This sounds like the kind of pseudo-science featured in half the women’s magazines and diet plans of the world, and it’s certainly not backed up by anything so research-oriented as even a simple google search. But it sounds kind of good? Maybe?

2. Anxiety as cardio – I am afraid of flying, and I did it twice over the holiday to get to and from Texas. My phobia has gotten so bad that I started having panic attacks almost two days in advance of the flight out, and for both flights, I was shaking visibly for the first hour or so of the trip. This level of anxiety and the panic attacks that go with it cause so much physical stress for me that it seems possible that that stress could also burn calories. Maybe…?!

3. Anxiety as diet – On those days when I was so nervous about flying (about four in all), the anxiety suppressed my appetite, and I really couldn’t eat – which maybe made up for the days I ate more?

4. Dumb, happy luck?

5. Magic diet tamales?

I don’t know, clearly. But I am grateful. And now that I am back home and in my routine, I am also firmly back on the wagon of healthy choices. Because really, a cookie here and a few lazy days there isn’t what kills you, it’s making those things a pattern, the rule instead of the exception, that does. I plan on keeping them the exception.

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